NATURAL disasters have cost the country approximately J$100 billion over the last 20 years, according to Director General of the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) Professor Gladstone Hutchinson.
The PIOJ head, however, blamed much of this on risky settlements across the island as well as poor environmental concerns, noting that while Jamaica is highly vulnerable to weather and earthquake hazards, poverty and human insecurity worsen the situation.
"While some of the damage might have been unavoidable, much of what was wreaked on housing settlements, in particular was the result of security risks that are perennially taken in the establishment of informal settlements by economically deprived individuals," Hutchinson said in reference to the recent damage by flood rains from the outer bands of Tropical Storm Nicole.
The rains left 13 people dead, washed away crops, and damaged houses and and other building.
According to Hutchinson, urban drift -- which has created large, unregulated slums -- has contributed to several homes being built in flood and mudslide-prone areas resulting in loss of lives and damage to properties.
The PIOJ head, who was addressing the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) annual general meeting at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston last Tuesday, said these large unregulated slumshave also resulted in the accumulation of uncollected piles of solid waste as well as the exposure of residents to unhealthy environments.
"We simply need to respect the human security motivation and need of squatters, slash and burn peasants, gully-bank dwellers, etc, and facilitate a better and more sustainable way for them to achieve their safety and human security needs," he said.
Hutchinson said the absence of adequate regulations in many instances and monitoring and enforcement mechanisms in others, have further resulted in urban communities, particularly those in proximity to industrial complexes, bearing the brunt of air pollution, mainly from factory and auto emissions, and exposure to toxic and hazardous wastes.
"This has contributed to the over burdening of our health care system with chronic and other diseases," he said.
Turning to the issue of crime, Hutchinson said the recent West Kingston upheaval involving Christopher "Dudus" Coke was another defining moment for Jamaica in the area of safety and human security.
Hutchinson pointed to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), which has preliminarily estimated the cost of the damage and losses to date at US$152 million (Ja$13 billion).
"While the unrest could be described as anomalous, the damage and losses suffered brought into sharp focus the significant impact of crime and violence on the Jamaican macro-economy and society, and the urgent need to address the underlying causes," Hutchinson said.
Additionally, he said, it has brought to the fore the need to reassess measures, which have been utilised to address the issues of crime and socio-economic marginalisation and deprivation.
He announced further that a community renewal programme is being developed to address comprehensively the exposed social problems, in particular, crime and violence, and attendant issues such as illiteracy, anti-social behaviour, low self esteem, unemployment, poor housing, poor infrastructure, weak community governance and lack of co-ordination of social intervention programmes.
The programme will include an array of projects and initiatives concentrated in 100 communities islandwide over the next 10 years.
This will incorporate all existing projects and initiatives such as those being sponsored by the international development and public sector Partners.
JSIF and its partner organisations, he said, will play an instrumental role in the articulation of this programme.
Scarlette Gillings, managing director of JSIF, said the organisation was currently managing a portfolio of US$101.2 million, 68 per cent more than the initial US$60.25 million used to set up the fund.
Gillings said for last year, approximately $1 billion was disbursed for projects at various stages of their cycle.
"We completed and delivered 47 infrastructure projects and funded 16 summer camps at a cost of $12.5 million in inner-city communities," she announced.