We can’t be too prepared for natural disasters
The magnitude-5.6 earthquake that rattled Jamaica on Monday serves as a reminder that we need to keep strengthening our ability to respond to natural disasters.
Luckily, so far, there have been no reports of fatalities or serious injuries resulting from the quake and its aftershocks, one of which was measured at 4.1, according to the Earthquake Unit.
Thankfully, as well, the tremor was not strong enough to trigger a tsunami threat, as was the case in January 2018 when a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck off the coast of Honduras, setting off tsunami warnings for countries in the Caribbean and Central America.
Although those tsunami advisories were cancelled within an hour, there was considerable anxiety across the region.
Since the 1907 earthquake which devastated Kingston and is said to have caused more than 1,000 deaths, Jamaica has been largely spared in terms of such events.
However, it is generally acknowledged that a damaging quake can occur at any time. That is why it is extremely important that the State and every Jamaican consider it their duty to be prepared.
We recall that in 2016, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) had implemented a Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project funded by the Government through a US$30-million loan from the World Bank. That project was aimed at making infrastructure developments more resilient by improving the capacity of government institutions to generate and use hazard and risk information to inform national planning. It also focused on increasing awareness about disaster risk reduction, building resilience, and emergency management.
The project, which was scheduled to run through to 2022, included the development of a National Risk Information Platform which allows for all risk data to be located and updated in a centralised platform available to government agencies and the public.
In March 2018, the Jamaica Information Service reported that under the project, JSIF had provided the Earthquake Unit at The University of the West Indies (UWI) with well-needed equipment to strengthen its ability to monitor and respond to seismic activity.
The equipment included 10 digital seismometer systems that provide data on an earthquake’s magnitude, depth and epicentre; 30 accelerographs to be placed at seismic stations, hospitals and schools to measure the horizontal force acting on a building; and 72 Ethernet radios with antennae, which transmit data in real time from seismic stations to the Central Recording Station at The UWI.
The unit was also promised other equipment and human capacity-building programmes, all of which are highly commendable.
In all this, we must reiterate our commendations to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management for the work it has been doing on educating Jamaicans how to respond to forces of nature.
At the same time, we must express concern about reports of negligence among housing developers, some of whom, we hear, are cutting corners in relation to building permits and safety regulations. That is a serious issue that requires urgent attention from the State. So too is the need to update building codes to ensure that our infrastructure can, within reason, withstand destruction in the event of catastrophic natural disasters.
The country cannot be too prepared for these eventualities.