Sun | Jun 26, 2022
ADVISORY COLUMN: RISKS & INSURANCE

Cedric Stephens | Storm season preparations should be left to experts

Published:Sunday | May 15, 2022 | 12:06 AM
Satellite image of a storm on the move on July 2, 2014.
Satellite image of a storm on the move on July 2, 2014.

The countdown to the start of the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season has begun. Sixteen clear days remain until June 1.

When it comes to compliance with building regulations, the drowsy municipal government for Kingston and St Andrew, the KSMAC, was first out of the blocks. On May 10 it said it will be embarking on a comprehensive drain-cleaning programme in several communities across the Corporate Area.

The development and execution of plans for disaster management are too important to be left to politicians. It would have been preferable if responsibility for overseeing these tasks was left to technocrats at ODPEM and the National Works Agency.

Also, the focus of the KSMAC is Kingston and St Andrew. What about plans for the other parishes? Shouldn’t the country be embarking on an island-wide drain cleaning and maintenance programme, among other things, if the job is about preparing for the next hurricane season?

The ODPEM’s website was not updated for 2022. Information on its parent ministry’s website says this entity “has the unique role of being the only government agency to provide disaster-management functions in Jamaica”. If so, why does it appear to have been side-lined in the important task of designing, executing, and overseeing the flood-mitigation plan for the upcoming hurricane season for the country’s capital? Has the function been assigned to the politicians because of its capacity to create part-time jobs? Isn’t the KSMAC putting the cart before the horse?

There is nothing on the Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development’s website remotely resembling the following statement that I saw in the financial statements of a leading private sector company:

The role of the Board Risk Committee is to ensure that a comprehensive risk management framework is enacted by management and to promote an appropriate risk management culture, on behalf of the Board. The Board Risk Committee’s oversight risk management responsibilities and the underlying compliance monitoring and governance structure include overseeing risk exposures and strategies.

The ministry also has responsibility for the Jamaica Fire Brigade and the National Solid Waste Management Agency. Does it have a structure that defines how it can implement, manage, and monitor how risks are managed in these agencies and municipal corporations for which it is responsible?

The ministry seems unaware that 10 years ago, then Minister of Finance Dr Peter Phillips, according to the Jamaica Information Service, said that “reducing the effects of natural disasters is critical to the country’s economic well-being, based on the significant impact these events have on its Gross Domestic Product”.

Data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica indicate that damage associated with hurricanes, floods, and droughts has cost the country an annual average of two per cent of its GDP since 2001 and could reach 56 per cent of GDP by 2025. “The cumulative losses amounted to close to $120 billion. This is money, which would otherwise be spent on developmental tasks … ,” it said.

The Ministry of Economic Growth, in its July 2021 updated climate change policy framework, has increased those estimates to $132 billion.

If understanding the past is part one of the countdown, part two is about examining the forecast for this year’s hurricane season. Scientists at Colorado State University have predicted another ‘above average’ season for 2022. It forecasts nine hurricanes, four of which may reach at least Category 3 strength. This is in comparison to the 1991-2020 average of seven hurricanes, including three major ones

Colorado State’s outlook cites neutral-to-cool El Niño-Southern Oscillations or ENSO conditions and warmer-than-average water temperatures in the Caribbean and subtropical Atlantic as indicators for the active hurricane season.

“The phase of ENSO, commonly referred to as El Niño or La Niña, is one of the strongest indicators of how active a hurricane season will be this early in the year ahead of a hurricane season. La Niña, or the cooling of the eastern equatorial Pacific, has been in play for the better part of the last two hurricane seasons. La Niña typically enhances the amount of activity that we see during hurricane season compared to its counter-phase, El Niño, which causes stronger shearing winds aloft that limit tropical storm and hurricane growth.”

Chris Herbert, writing in the Disaster Recovery Journal on March 28 predicted: “We are forecasting an above-normal number of named storms in 2022 due to the low probability of an El Niño, above-normal ocean heat content and decreased low-level shear in the main development region. For the first time since 2017, the islands of the Eastern Caribbean may be impacted by a major hurricane. The entire region from south Texas to southern New England may be at a greater risk for a significant impact, though the Atlantic coast may be at a greater risk of a major impact than the Gulf Coast.”

AccuWeather’s team of tropical weather forecasters is also predicting ‘an above-normal season’ in terms of tropical activity as well as a ‘higher-than-normal chance’ that a major hurricane could make landfall in mainland United States, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.

Specifically, it is forecasting 16-20 named storms and six to eight hurricanes. Of those hurricanes, about three to five are forecast to reach major hurricane status, which occurs when a storm reaches Category 3 strength with winds exceeding 111 miles per hour.

AccuWeather’s forecast of 16-20 named storms is higher than the 30-year average of 14 while the projection of six to eight hurricanes is about in line with the normal of seven. It is also nearly identical to how 2021 played out.

Climate action failure, said a recent newspaper article, “tops the list of the most critical threats facing the world”, citing the Global Risks Report 2022 published by the World Economic Forum. Climate action failure, extreme weather, and biodiversity loss were among the “three most severe environmental risks”.

- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: aegis@flowja.com or business@gleanerjm.com