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Letter of the Day | Shift in behaviour critical to disaster management

Published:Wednesday | May 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM


The heavy rains which lashed Jamaica this week have resulted in what will likely be many millions of dollars' worth of damage to the island's infrastructure, commerce, and public and private properties. On the news Tuesday night, we watched reports of the widespread flooding which resulted impacting communities all across Jamaica. Much of these impacts could have been avoided.

In our cities and towns huge quantities of garbage plastic bottles, styrofoam, old tyres and appliances blocked waterways, causing them to overflow and inundate surrounding areas with floodwaters. Poor urban planning is also partly to blame. Our towns are increasingly being paved over covered with roofs, car parks and roads. When it rains, the land has little capacity to absorb the water, and run-off quickly overwhelms drains and gullies.


Poor land use


The impact of poor land-use planning is even more apparent in rural areas. According to the Forestry Department's National Forest Management and Conservation Plan (Draft, 2017), we have removed much of our natural forest only an estimated 19 per cent of Jamaica's most valuable forest, closed broadleaf forest, remains intact. During heavy rains, forested areas reduce the risk of flooding by absorbing floodwater, preventing soil erosion, and reducing sediment going into rivers. Our wetlands, which have a huge capacity to absorb floodwaters, have also been removed at an alarming rate, experiencing an estimated loss of 95 per cent between 1998 and 2013, according to the Forestry Department.

Global climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events like this one. Unless we change our daily habits and development practices, we can expect high financial and social costs to life, livelihoods and property to continue. Accepting individual responsibility for the garbage we produce is one way for every Jamaican citizen to do this.

The lack of bins or infrequent garbage collection is no excuse for dumping our waste in the streets or in gullies.

At the same time, the state must also take a lead role in improving the way our towns and cities are managed, with better solid waste infrastructure, preservation of green spaces and enforcement of planning laws and regulations. We must also take the protection of our forests much more seriously at the individual and state level if we are to have any hope of mitigating the threat of Climate Change.

Suzanne Stanley

Deputy Chief Executive Officer

Jamaica Environment Trust

Earth Cottage, Unit 5,

123 Constant Spring Road,

Kingston 8,