Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has said the time has come for Jamaicans to stop building houses in places at risk of sustaining great damage in the event of natural disasters.
In an address to the House of Representatives on Hurricane Sandy yesterday, the prime minister said the state could no longer sit by and watch persons putting up buildings in unsafe areas.
"Sometimes when governments make an appeal and say, 'Please, leave a particular area', they wait until great danger sets in and then they want our first responders … to respond, not understanding they are putting the lives of other persons in danger," Simpson Miller lamented.
She added: "We need to understand that when we say there is a threat, danger is near, [people should] move immediately and do not wait."
The prime minister's comments came on the same day West Kingston Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie gave notice of his intention to have debated in the House a private member's motion calling for legislation for mandatory evacuation of persons threatened by natural disasters and for the forced removal of persons who live in dangerous areas.
"I do not believe we should allow people to build by gully banks, upon some hills where you can have slippage, and in river beds, and then begin to call whichever government that is in power [and say] 'You must do something about it'," Simpson Miller said.
"I really feel we should legislate to ensure that there are certain areas that no one will be able to put up even a shack," Simpson Miller added.
She said even before Sandy, she had instructed that a revision of the building codes and regulations be fast-tracked.
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, while giving support to the call for legislation for forced and mandatory evacuation, said the Government must go further. He argued that the Parliament should consider ways to construct houses without plywood and zinc.
"Whilst we agree on the need for legislation and regulation to protect where we live, we also have to develop policies about the materials that we use to build. I think the over-reliance that has developed on zinc and plyboard as building solutions is something that a small committee may be established to study," Holness said.
He proposed that the committee consider new products that can be used in housing development.
NO HELP FROM CATASTROPHE FUND
In the meantime, Prime Minister Simpson Miller said Jamaica will not be able to benefit from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance facility.
The facility is a regional catastrophe fund for Caribbean governments designed to limit the financial impact of devastating hurricanes and earthquake.
Responding to questions posed by Opposition MP Audley Shaw, Simpson Miller said finance minister Dr Peter Phillips made contact with the insurers and has been told Jamaica was not hit-hard enough.
According to Simpson Miller, the insurers estimated total damage at US$26 million or J$2.4 billion.
Not amused by the response from the insurers, Shaw said, "We should forget it", to which Simpson Miller said the Parliament should now consider putting in place a Government of Jamaica self-insurance fund.
Simpson Miller gave figures amounting to J$4.48 billion which she said was the preliminary cost of damage associated with Sandy.
Sandy damage estimates
Roads and other infrastructure - $2.6 billion
Agriculture - $1.5 billion
Schools - $170 million
Health facilities - $160 million
Children's facilities and places of safety - $9.25 million
JDF facilities - $31 million
JCF facilities - $6.3 million
Department of Corrections - $5.1 million