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Multi-agency community-based approach to curb open burning culture

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and its partners have taken to the streets with an anti-open burning public awareness campaign.

The campaign, which begun recently with a road show in the Mavis Bank, St Andrew community, is being used to sensitise key communities in east rural St Andrew and western St Thomas about the impact of forest fires on people's lives, livelihoods, water and food security as well as the environment.

Road shows will also be held in Papine Square, St Andrew as well as the Windsor Forest community in St Thomas. The campaign will be bolstered by public service announcements, community events, church and school presentations.

The activities are being spearheaded by NEPA's GEF/IDB Integrated Management of the Yallahs and Hope River Watershed Management Areas Project and support the Natural Resources Conservation Environmental Protection Measures (EPM) Order.

Popularly known as the Anti-burning Order, the legislation was passed in June 2016, in an effort to curtail the open burning habits of Jamaicans within six of the island's 26 watershed management units (WMUs) between February 1 and October 31 each year.

The multi-agency event is supported by the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Forestry Department, Rural Agricultural Development Authority and the Citizens Security and Justice Programme.

Nelsa English-Johnson, Yallahs Hope Project Manager, said the campaign will be supported by an intensive social marketing component to reduce the slash-and-burn culture in targeted communities.

“We want to change the culture of burning by farmers and residents in fire hot-spot communities and so we will be going into schools and meeting with community groups to demonstrate and promote composting and mulching as practical and viable alternatives to the destructive burning tradition,” she said.

Already, the community-based approach has proven effective in reducing the habit of the burning of debris and starting forest fires within the Yallahs River and Hope River WMUs.

Emilio Ebanks, Senior Deputy Superintendent at the Jamaica Fire Brigade said the agency has seen a steady decline in the number of forest fires.

“Since 2010, there has been an average of 7000 fires per year in these hot spot communities, but following our 2015 intervention, 2016 saw a 57 per cent reduction in fires with just around 3000 fires in the targeted sites,” said Ebanks.

The fire Chief also noted that 2017 also had fewer forest fires.

“There were 232 forest fires in St Thomas for the 2017 calendar year compared to 510 fires in 2015. This is a 55 per cent decrease for the parish. The parishes of Kingston and St Andrew also had a 62 per cent decrease in forest fires moving from 973 fires in 2015 to 370 in 2017,” Ebanks said.

Uncontrolled fires in the Yallahs River and Hope River WMUs have over the years contributed to land degradation, deforestation, loss of livelihoods, biodiversity and increased water lock-offs caused by loose soil making its way into catchment basins which supply the National Water Commission.

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