More pressure on COVID-hit J'cans with back-to-school, says councillor


More pressure on COVID-hit J'cans with back-to-school, says councillor

Thursday, July 09, 2020

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Jamaica Labour Party councillor for the Montego Bay South Division Richard Vernon is expressing fear that Jamaicans already reeling from the devastating economic impact of COVID-19 will be further pressured by back-to-school expenses.

“I can feel the mounting pressure of back-to-school fading in as we approach the month of August. Many will not be able to purchase the needed educational materials for the new academic year, particularly due to the loss of income throughout the pandemic,” Vernon said.

He added that this will prove to be especially problematic for a group that missed out on nearly one semester of school since institutions were shuttered in March, “because those children lacked the necessary equipment to access online classes”.

The councillor also highlighted the the widespread loss of income for many, due to the measures implemented to curtail the spread of the virus.

“As the economy came to a partial close recently, scores of citizens were laid off from the tourism, and, in many instances, the telecommunications industries, as employers adjusted their revenue to match production costs. Even though many of these residents were employed in the tourism and telecommunication industries, their economic burdens have been exacerbated by the closing of airports, hotels, and cottage industries, coupled with the need to provide for their families. This has been a significant problem in the informal communities, given that most of those employed worked in these industries,” the first-term councillor said.

Vernon also pointed out that much of Montego Bay's unemployment rate is fuelled by members of the informal settlements, many of whom “lead an informal way of life, utilising their entrepreneurial skills or being supported by odd jobs”.

“When there is a lockdown, however, their income is shafted,” he said.

He was speaking at the launch of the US$100,000 St James Municipal Corporation/UN-Habitat COVID-19 Response programme in the second city yesterday.

The UN-Habitat-funded programme is expected to impact more than 3,000 people in the designated Montego Bay inner-city communities of Canterbury, Albion Lane, William Street, and Paradise Row. The project will run from July to September.

“They [inner-city communities] have all the tenets to make [a disease] outbreak explosive, as such, pre-emptive actions must be implemented and these implementations must have medium- to long-term implications. The approval of the COVID-19 response proposal is nothing short of timely,” Vernon said.

The project has three components. The first is an educational campaign which will be done through town criers, murals, fliers, and community engagement, while the second component will focus on sanitisation through the removal of bulky waste, cleaning of the North Gully, construction of skips, washing and sanitising public spaces, as well as the distribution of sanitisers and community-produced masks.

The third component will be the supply of care packages to at least 450 households.

Vernon explained that UN-Habitat has been working alongside the St James Municipal Corporation “within informal communities for some time now”.

“This partnership has made significant inroads through its Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme, which seeks to ultimately transform these communities through research, policy and regulatory review, and citywide slum upgrading strategy,” he stated.

Mayor of Montego Bay, Councillor Homer Davis, also endorsed the project.

— Horace Hines

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