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Engineers' Angle | Engineering a resilient built environment

Published:Sunday | June 30, 2019 | 12:00 AMOmar Sweeney - Contributor
Omar Sweeney
Men try to free an electrical wire from debris after the passing of Hurricane Sandy in Gibara, Cuba, in 2012.

Coming out of the Global Platform (GP 2019) held in Geneva, Switzerland, and the Regional Platform (RP 2019) held in Bridgetown, Barbados, we have much to consider.

As the hurricane season begins in the Caribbean, governments, businesses, and ordinary citizens can only hope and pray that this won’t be a year of disaster. The effects of the storms of 2017 continue to take a toll on Dominica and Barbuda, in particular, as well as other countries like St Maarten. These disasters have caused severe damage despite the recovery and redevelopment efforts of governments and their development partners to reduce vulnerabilities and risks to climate change.

Globally, we continue to see very high-level discussions related to the Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework and the thrust to limit the rise of global temperature to 1.5 degrees C. These are valiant attempts to draft a road map to reduce and address the effects of climate change, and in tandem, make regions like the Caribbean more resilient. Despite these efforts, and as the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) indicated at RP 2019, hurricanes, droughts, and significant rainfall events threaten to become even more severe in the Caribbean.

For the Caribbean, a key part of adapting to rapidly changing climate conditions is the investment in climate-resilient infrastructure. Jamaica has developed a much-needed update to the 1908 National Building Code in accordance with the International Code Council (ICC). The associated Building Code Bill, which received legislative approval in January 2019, will usher in 11 legally mandated codes, specifically adapted to the Jamaican context. The first three of these 11 codes to be edited and published will be the Small Residential Code, the Fire Code, and the Jamaica Building Code.

The Jamaica Social Investment Fund’s Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project (DVRP) will support the development and delivery of a related training programme on the updated National Building Code for professional, technical, and support personnel in the construction industry. This will be achieved through the ICC’s collaboration with local training institutions in a train-the-trainer design targeted at local government officials such as building inspectors and engineers, contractors responsible for construction in the formal and informal sector, and government decision/policymakers.


The training programme will coordinate the effective use, integration, regulation, and overall enforcement of the Building Code for climate-resilient infrastructure. Changing practices across the construction industry requires mobilising behaviour change on the part of builders, masons, bricklayers, construction professionals, home and business owners, and local officials.

But there is also another change needed. We must change our attitude towards the built environment. The images and the experiences of the disaster-struck nations are merely a snapshot of how life changing these climate-related events can be. Beyond the physical and the financial shocks, the long-term effects on the lives of all, and mostly the vulnerable, can be devastating. Our best protection is to invest in a properly regulated built environment.

The call to action now is for civil society and citizens to unite and have a voice that will lift the regulations to the highest possible standard. We have a guide as seen in many developed countries, and as stated earlier, Jamaica is making significant strides to get there.

Time, however, is against us. Let us demand a new standard now. Let’s put poor workmanship, design, and construction behind us. We are just too vulnerable, and, collectively as a nation, our lives depend on this type of improvement.

- Mr Omar Sweeney is the managing director of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) and chairman of the Professional Engineers Registration Board (PERB). Email feedback to