Sat | Jan 16, 2021

Disaster waiting to happen

Published:Monday | June 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Jodi-Ann Gilpin, Gleaner Writer

Experts remain concerned that poor planning is likely to cause terrible tragedies if Jamaica is impacted by a major storm during the hurricane season.

Norman Harris, director of research and mapping at the Mines and Geology Division of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, has called for proper enforcement strategies to ensure that persons stop building in vulnerable areas.

With the 2014 hurricane season now under way, he said Jamaica could encounter detrimental consequences should a major event occur.

According to Harris, it is imperative that a comprehensive relocation plan be put in place to lessen the effects that might result from building in vulnerable areas.

"The truth is, we are in a bad place in terms of vulnerable areas. However, things can get worse and things can be done to minimise this damage," he said.

"We know the culture of evacuation, but we have to quickly decide whether or not it will be mandatory and ways in which evacuation can be enforced."

"The ODPEM (Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management) does a good job, I think, in identifying areas and sending out evacuation warnings over the years, but I think the issue is the culture that exists," added Harris.

He argued that the problem was that some of the nation's most vulnerable areas were informal settlements outside of the planning radar.

"This means that when decisions are made those places tend to be left behind," said the director.

Curb informal settlements

Harris also made reference to impending no-build zone legislation which will assist in curbing informal settlements.

"I have been on the committee for over a year now and I think, in short order, a bill will be tabled in Parliament," he said. "The whole idea is to be able to identify these vulnerable areas and see how they will be dealt with."

Clinton Thompson, commissioner of the Mines and Geology Division, said he was concerned about the number of hillside developments that have taken place over the years and urged that, as the country prepares for the hurricane season, Jamaicans be alert.

"From our perspective, the challenge is a serious one. It's almost like we have to be wondering which (building) will collapse next," said Thompson.

"That's how vulnerable we are. We have too many persons who have taken hillsides and turned them into huge developments which are prone to serious land slippages.

jodi-ann.gilpin@gleanerjm.com