We like PAHO's proactive approach on heatwaves

We like PAHO's proactive approach on heatwaves

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

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Most Jamaicans, we suspect, may have overlooked the warning from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) that Caribbean countries need to be prepared to deal with the effects of heatwaves that have so far affected Australia, Canada, the United States, Europe, India, Pakistan, and Japan.

If our assessment is true, the neglect would be understandable, given that PAHO issued the warning just ahead of Christmas when the majority of people were focused on the holiday and the joys of the festive season.

That, however, doesn't lessen our concern over PAHO's prediction which, if realised, can cause significant damage and, worse, death.

According to the international public health agency, at least 24 countries in the Americas — among them The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic — were affected by heatwaves over the past 12 months.

The region, therefore, should prepare for problems such as heat-induced stress, reduction in the availability of water, increased risk of forest fires, loss of crops, and the possibility of power cuts, which will naturally impact refrigeration, air-conditioning and access to cool air.

We are encouraged by PAHO's announcement that, not only has it developed communication materials to enable the public to be prepared, but it has formulated a guide to help countries in the Americas formulate contingency plans to address heatwaves.

This guide, PAHO explained, provides recommendations that the health sector and meteorological agencies can implement to prepare for and better respond to the threat of heatwaves, prevent their adverse effects, and care for affected people.

That, we believe, is a commendable, proactive approach to a possible approaching problem and should complement the Jamaican Government's plans, as outlined by Senator Pearnel Charles Jr, for this year's drought forecast by the Meteorological Service of Jamaica.

Last year's severe drought, and those in previous years, are still fresh in our memory, mostly because of the hardships they imposed on the country, as well as the fires they ignited, especially in farming areas.

Just this week, in this space, we pointed to the devastating effects of fires in 2015, fuelled by prolonged drought and strong winds that swept through communities in the Blue Mountain, destroying homes as well as hundreds of acres of forest, coffee, and banana plantations.

In addition, we noted that last year large acreages of forests in St Mary, and more than 200 acres of farm crops in Flagaman, St Elizabeth, were also destroyed by fires traced to drought.

Senator Charles has spoken of the formation of a drought management committee that, he said, would engage and create a strategy from now. That makes sense. However, what Senator Charles needs to ensure is that this committee works; meaning that, in addition to formulating strategies, it must see to the implementation of those strategies and, most important, have the deliverables measured.

Amidst that, we believe it is worth reiterating the importance of public education campaigns to reduce or prevent the spread of wildfires, as well as to minimise the impact of drought, especially now with the onset of the dry season.


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