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Reconstructing Haiti, Jamaica could play a leading role

Published:Sunday | January 17, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Tyrone Reid, Sunday Gleaner Reporter


Jamaica's emergency czar believes reconstructing Haiti will take more than picking up the pieces and putting the devastated country back together again.

Ronald Jackson, director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) - the organisational epicentre of the Caribbean Community's western operations - said there has to be a paradigm shift in the crafting and application of building codes.

"I think there has to be more of a medium- (to) long-term effort to look at policy and enforcement," said Jackson, who visited Haiti last week, with Prime Minister Bruce Golding and a Jamaican contingent that also included Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller, in a show of solidarity for the Haitian people.

"What was visible there - other than the fact that the standards may have been lax in some of the construction - there were buildings that stood and didn't show any visible external signs of damage or cracking, but those that fell down (had) a mix of poor construction, but also some of the patterns of the collapse looked like buildings located along fault lines, and that could also be something we could look at."

Jackson said there is not much defence against a 7.0 earthquake, but hinted that proper structures could have reduced the damage done to Haiti.

"It can be made worse by the state of the locale and the kind of buildings you have, and where."

share experiences

While in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, Jackson revealed that he saw concrete walls that had no steel and no foundation support and as a result, they toppled under the dictates of the 7.0 quake.

The ODPEM head said Jamaican builders could share their experiences in construction design and construction practices with their Haitian neighbours during the reconstruction process that is to come.

Although the rebuilding of Haiti is a good way off, Jackson said his office was already engaged in dialogue with the Incorporated Masterbuilders Association of Jamaica (IMAJ) and the local engineers' association.

Both groups, he said, have pledged their support to volunteer when the time comes. But for now, CARICOM's thrust is on providing medicine and other medically related assistance. Efforts to get a comment from the IMAJ were unsuccessful.

Jackson told The Sunday Gleaner that the short-term reconstruction effort being explored by CARICOM is the retrofitting of some buildings to serve as hospitals and shelters.

"Once we get the camp going (and) move out from the immediate critical needs of health and medical and search and rescue we can begin to look at those medium-term construction goals and share those skill sets we have here via volunteerism," he explained.

Jackson said he gathered, from a meeting with high-ranking CARICOM officials last week, that the Caribbean Community is in the Haiti recovery process for the long haul.