Red Tape delaying efforts to relocate riverbank dwellers says ODPEM
More than a month after Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller instructed the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development to start relocating people living on riverbanks and other areas vulnerable to natural disasters, the urgency of her directive is being strangled by government red tape.
Stressing the need for such residents to be relocated to ensure that lives are not lost in the event of a hurricane or other natural disasters, Simpson Miller told a meeting of the National Disaster Committee at Jamaica House last month that the practice of living on riverbanks was dangerous and required immediate action by the authorities.
"We need to take action or identify somewhere that is safer and relocate them. If they refuse to come off, then the Government should issue an enforcement order for them to [move], but we cannot allow what is happening to continue," Simpson Miller said as she directed the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and the ministry to take immediate action. She issued the instruction days into the start of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.
However, Major Clive Davis, director general of the ODPEM, told The Gleaner on Tuesday that while preparations were under way, nothing concrete had been done in terms of removing or relocating at-risk residents. He cited government red tape as a major obstacle in getting off the ground.
"There is a requirement for a number of processes to be followed. These include a multi-agency approach for the production of a series of data, public consultations and Cabinet submissions. When the area is so declared, there is, inter alia, the management of land use by the ODPEM and also the rolling out of mitigation measures in order to address the situation. With the act only recently passed, we are still in consultations with our lawyers for guidance as we move forward," Davis disclosed.
He then went on to explain that the new Disaster Risk Management Act made provision for action of this nature in the face of an emergency/disaster situation, but he was evasive when asked about a timeline for getting started on the prime minister's action plan, again pointing to a raft of ground rules that must be observed.
"Data is being collected; consultations are being held. Any task of this nature will be have to be ongoing. While we do have some information, the data has to be cleaned up in order for us to be able to definitively say that a particular area may or may not be so declared," he said.
Meanwhile, this lethargic response seems to have been endorsed by Local Government Minister Noel Arscott, who also indicated recently in an interview with The Gleaner that the process is not likely to get going anytime soon.
"Based on our objectives - finding alternative locations for persons, identifying the vulnerable areas, and actually removing persons - I am not sure that this will be completed during the hurricane season," he said.