Check with us before you build – MGI
CLIMATE CHANGE is about a combination of weather-related activities such as drought, increased frequency of storms, landslides and intense rainfall, and the Mona GeoInformatics Institute (MGI) at The University of the West Indies has been using a geographic information system (GIS) to get Jamaica on a path to better understanding when and how these are likely to happen. This will help the country to anticipate and plan for these events; but to be successful, this will mean a fundamental rethink in terms of our governance systems.
Using records of natural hazards that happened even a hundred years ago in Jamaica, the institute has been able to do forecasting and digital modelling of how some events are likely to unfold and can inform the solutions.
“Nature doesn’t care about your politics,” Executive Director Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr candidly told The Gleaner. “The beauty about having records and using that, is that we can know what’s going to happen by 2050, all things being equal. So being able to see and predict, you can prepare and are able now to plan.”
One of the main points highlighted by the data bank is that it is not practical to have a uniform flood mitigation plan across all 63 constituencies, when constituencies are differentially affected by natural hazards. Large constituencies, large parishes, large communities have different incipient risks than other areas, and some constituencies are larger than the parish of Kingston. So we have to understand the different kinds of responses needed, Lyew-Ayee explained.
With ongoing population shifts, which is not necessarily fed by population growth, more people will become entrenched in particular locations, such as floodplains and gully banks, and eventually will be regularised in these locations, with legal access to electricity and water, putting more people at risk during severe weather events.
Brave political leadership will definitely be needed to tackle this issue, according to the scientist.
“The argument about squatters living in hazard-prone areas needs to come out of the political arena. Is their vote more important than their lives? Is the continued bailing out of people who choose to put themselves in harm’s way going to be tolerated? Landslides and floods are going to be increasingly frequent, you see that in the graphs above. This decade has only just begun and you can see that in the landslides and floods by decade, after just one and a half years of the 2020s, we are already at 25 per cent of the total for the decade.
“As countries grow, development by itself you can’t stop it. It is normal, I’m not here to tell you to stop building, because quality of life is going to be important, people’s aspirations, growth in income and improved lifestyle and living conditions, all that is fine. We just need to understand that unless infrastructure keeps up, unless we become more responsible, we can’t live the way we are living now in 2050.”
Once you listen to the engineers and other professionals in the fields and take the politics out of it, the country should be able to make good, steady progress in this regard, he further argued. However, the political directorate must recognise that the natural, the built and social environments are all integrally connected and make policy decisions accordingly.
For Deputy Director of the Mona Informatics Institute, Dr Ava Maxam, investors and policymakers need to acquaint themselves with the wealth of digital data housed at the facility.
“We have good data about the island – the geology and the shorelines, a lot of information exists. It may not be centralised, which is what MGI is working on. This is why you come to us, as like a one-stop shop for a lot of this information, and then for us to also translate what the information is going to project or predict. We can do that for you as well, but it is crucial that you use data to inform your plans and development.”