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Atlas highlights Jamaica's vulnerability to natural hazards

Published:Sunday | November 25, 2012 | 12:00 AM
  • Title: Natural Hazards Atlas of Jamaica
  • Authors: Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr and Rafi Ahmad
  • Publisher: University of the West Indies Press
  • Reviewer: Robyn Miller

With as much as half of the year designated the atlantic hurricane season, there can be little doubt about Jamaica's vulnerability to natural hazards. And if ever there was need for a reminder, Superstorm Sandy which swept through parts of the Caribbean and the United States east coast a month ago, should still be fresh in our collective minds.

In a grippingly vivid and comprehensive look at Jamaica's vulnerability to natural hazards, much of which is laid out in pictures dating as far back as the 1907 earthquake, Natural Hazards Atlas of Jamaica puts this most important issue into perspective:

"Jamaica is susceptible to four main natural hazards: floods, landslides earthquakes and hurricanes", authors Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr, director of the Mona GeoInformatics Institute and Rafi Ahmad, head of the Unit for Disaster Studies, both at the University of the West Indies, Mona, reveal.

Sectionalised under three main headings - 'physical environment'; 'natural hazards' (to which Jamaica is exposed) and, finally, a breakdown of the 'parish natural hazards profile', the book examines a mountain of geographical and planning issues with consideration to Jamaica's landscape, geology, protected areas, rainfall, and hydrology, among others.

In-depth research

A generosity of maps, figures, graphs, plates and tables complete with a glossary will take readers along systematically, in 150 pages; and once you begin to flip through, it will become clear the in-depth research and hands-on approach of the authors.

With more than 200 peer-reviewed articles combined, each draw on their respective expertise, which also sees them capturing many of the pictures through their own lens, some dating as far back as Hurricane Gilbert, from Ahmad, the more senior of the two.

Page after page brings home vivid reminders of the devastation wrought by nature's unforgiving wrath; like the rainfall-induced landslides in Skyline Drive in upper St Andrew which destroyed roads and water supply pipelines from 2004 to 2008, to the 2001 flood rains that sank dwellings built in river beds in Bybrook, and sediment flooding that swallowed entire homes, motor vehicles and anything else in its path.

A once middle-class community near the sea on the outskirts of Harbour View in St Andrew, Caribbean Terrace, a shadow of itself after the onslaught of hurricanes Ivan and Dean in 2004 and 2007, respectively, brings into focus the question of planning, as does Jamaicans' seeming propensity to build their homes in river beds.

Well laid-out, Jamaica's picturesque beauty is undeniable in this glossy hardback publication, even amid the images of despair and destruction.

A coffee table centrepiece, Natural Hazards Atlas of Jamaica should be as useful a guide for engineers, planners and builders as it is for homeowners and prospective buyers.