Is Jamaica meeting its disaster risk reduction obligations?


Is Jamaica meeting its disaster risk reduction obligations?

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

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International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on October 13 is one of those days designated by the United Nations that really doesn't get the attention it deserves.

Ironically, though, the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for us to, as the UN states, “promote actions aimed at preventing, mitigating, responding, and recovering from the impacts of disasters on people's lives and well-being”.

There is no challenging the UN's view that COVID-19 and the reality of climate change “are telling us that we need clear vision, plans, and competent empowered institutions acting on scientific evidence for the public good”.

Indeed, the theme for this year's International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction — ItsAllAboutGovernance — speaks to the necessity for countries to ensure that they are resilient and better prepared to face crises.

That need is especially great here in Jamaica and the Caribbean as we are located in one of the world's most disaster-prone areas.

Data provided by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean reveal that between 1990 and 2017, a total of 408 disasters associated with natural hazards occurred in the region. That's an average of 14.6 per year.

The commission also reported that there were disasters recorded every year during that period, but the highest incidence occurred in 2004 and 2017, which saw 30 and 29 disasters, respectively. The countries that suffered the highest number of disasters were Haiti, with 90; the Dominican Republic, 59; and Cuba, 53.

Thankfully, Jamaica has so far been spared direct hits from this year's Atlantic Hurricane Season. However, we have been severely affected by heavy rains from the outer bands of hurricanes Zeta and Eta.

The damage that the last three weeks of rainfall have had on communities in the eastern end of the island in particular has been, to say the least, devastating. Myriad reasons have been advanced for the destruction from heavy flooding.

But while we accept that some of the damage could have been avoided — with attention given to maintenance of drains, as well as an acknowledgement by residents that they have a duty to avoid dumping waste into gullies and other storm waterways — one cannot deny the role played by global warming.

Indeed, scientists have told us that this year's record 29-storm Atlantic Hurricane Season is being fuelled by a La Nia event which, according to Mr Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, “reinforces the impact that climate change is having”.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, agreed by UN member states in 2015, requires the enactment of national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction by the end of this year.

Based on the disaster that unfolded in sections of the island over the last three weeks, we don't get the impression that Jamaica is anywhere near meeting its obligation under that framework which requires the linking of policies in areas such as land use, environmental protection, building codes, public health, education, agriculture, energy, water resources, poverty reduction, and climate change adaptation.

We may very well be wrong. Either way, the country needs to hear from the Government.

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