Christopher Serju, Sunday Gleaner Writer
"We all know the difficulties in attributing any single storm to climate change. But we also know this: extreme weather due to climate change is the new normal," declared United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in the wake of Hurricane Sandy's devastating impact on sections of the United States (US).
The frequency of this "new normal" and the economic cost to Jamaica has prompted the Government to act in ensuring that the country makes the necessary adaptation to meet and deal with the challenges of climate change.
Robert Pickersgill, minister of water, land, environment and climate change, last Friday put the accumulated impact of unattended climate-change problems in Jamaica over the past eight years at more that J$120 billion.
"This is without doubt one of the factors impeding economic growth and it will continue to have a negative impact if we do not find the means the minimise these effects," Pickersgill told a pre-Doha press briefing at the ministry's New Kingston office. The purpose of the event was to advise of Jamaica's position on climate-change issues when it takes part in the annual global climate change conference set for Doha, Qatar, from November 26 to December 7.
Noting that the hurricane caused grief, mayhem and death in Jamaica, Haiti, Eastern Cuba and the north-eastern section of the US with damage in Jamaica and the US estimated at J$5 billion and US$50 billion, respectively, Pickersgill stressed the importance of understanding the potential long-term impacts of simple, everyday activities.
Acknowledging that the country on a whole has been playing catch up in terms of its response to climate-change issues, he said the time had come for raising public awareness to the extent that it translates into wholesale corrective action.
"It is up to every Jamaican to play his/her part in this response. To ensure we protect our environment, make better preparations for natural disasters, adhere to and enforce planning and zoning regulations, maintain our drains and gullies to reduce the risk of flooding and avoid cutting down trees.
"The country is already paying a high price for its failure to date, to address these issues and, coupled with the increasing frequency of storms and hurricanes which have either struck the island directly or passed near, ongoing failure to remedy the situation will be to our peril," added Pickersgill.
Pointing to the 37-year lapse between Hurricane Charley in 1951 and Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, Pickersgill described as a wake-up call, the 31 tropical storms or hurricanes (landfall and non-landfall) which affected the island in the 24 years since and appealed for a concerted action to cope with such natural disasters.
"We all must therefore not only acknowledge this problem but also do whatever we can as individuals, communities and a country to respond to this challenge and mitigate its impacts."