Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday assured the nation that the island's disaster management entities are in a state of readiness as his office launched a national campaign designed to help Jamaicans prepare for the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season which, forecasters said, will be busier than normal.
The National Hurricane Preparedness Campaign, Holness said, is guided by objectives to increase public awareness of all hazards, increase visibility, create a culture of compliance, strengthen public knowledge to cause behaviour change in terms of planning and preparation for disasters, and increase youth involvement in community programmes.
“The ODPEM [[Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management], of course, plays the lead role in the achievement of these objectives as the national disaster coordinating agency. ODPEM, in collaboration with national, regional and international agencies, is committed to taking proactive and timely measures to prevent or reduce the impact of hazards on Jamaica, its people, our natural resources, and our economy,” Holness said.
“I have, in my capacity as chairman of the National Disaster Committee, instructed the committee to direct its attention to a number of priority areas: First, readiness of shelters and shelter operations… We are ready. The cleaning of the country's priority drain infrastructure is another area of critical focus and I'm aware that the NWA [National Works Agency] has already started its mitigation mobilisation; and then the enhanced public education and awareness initiative of which this event is one example,” he explained.
Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie, who also spoke at the launch, said shelters are inching towards completion as ODPEM's hurricane preparedness campaign is being observed under the theme 'Hurricane readiness in trying times'.
“We are almost 100 per cent ready in terms of our shelters. There are 867 shelters islandwide, and we have done assessment on almost 90 per cent of shelters across the island. All our shelters are equipped with isolation areas so that persons, if they come down with COVID, will be relocated to these areas,” said McKenzie.
Meanwhile, Holness underscored public education as an integral part of the approach to increase public awareness and engagement to support ODPEM's disaster preparation and emergency management activities.
“The Jamaican people will gain greater understanding of disaster risk management to be able to prepare for disasters, emergency situations, and emerging hazards, allowing them to properly and intentionally actively protect and safeguard themselves, family and property, thereby ensuring hurricane readiness in trying times,” he said.
Holness applauded front-line and emergency management workers for their hard work combating the novel coronavirus pandemic and the severe weather events that affected the island last year.
The country's strategy, he said, must be to anticipate, plan, and prepare for the threat, rather than to worry.
“With all the storms that are being projected, as this will be a very active season — and with all the challenges that we have as it relates to managing the pandemic and managing other threats that we face — the Government of Jamaica has a well-established disaster risk management and response mechanism,” he said.
“Last year was challenging when we had to be managing the pandemic and managing the hurricane season. Thankfully, we were not directly hit, but we were still significantly hit with the two hurricanes. It, indeed, challenged our fiscal resources, but we stood up and we provided relief, and we were able to respond,” he said.
Back-to-back heavy rains from tropical storms Zeta and Eta pummelled the island last season, displacing many Jamaicans in rural St Andrew. Residents were forced to evacuate heir homes after the Chalky River broke its banks close to the Nine Mile bridge, carrying silt from the river onto the road.
Citing previous instances when hurricanes “skirted” the island, Holness said it is the hope that history repeats itself.
“We would pray to our God that His mighty hand will guard us again in 2021 to prevent any such disaster from happening to us. But should it happen, we are prepared,” the prime minister said.