WITH last weekend's escape from the worst of Tropical Storm Elsa, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has urged Members of Parliament (MP) to hold strain while the Government seeks funding to increase disaster mitigation efforts.
In a statement yesterday to the House of Representatives, Holness said that the National Works Agency (NWA) had already begun addressing some of the problems created by the flooding that occurred.
He said that the NWA, as is its mandate, had assumed the central role in the immediate aftermath of the tropical storm by mobilising equipment and personnel to clear blocked roads and restore temporary access to affected communities. He said also that the agency had conducted rapid assessment at locations in which impact was observed and/or reported and added that, through its network of officers in the parishes, the NWA had conducted a preliminary assessment of damage and had undertaken work in order to allow for high volume corridors to be accessible to facilitate delivery of critical services.
Holness also noted that priority had been given to the corridors along which first responders, such as the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS) or the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), would require clear passage.
He confirmed that these works consisted primarily of clearing debris and garbage deposited by landslides or river/gully overflows, and said that some temporary work also had to be done where surfaces were eroded and needed to be temporarily reinstated.
The prime minister, however, gave assurance that work would go beyond clean-up operations.
“We are going to be spending more on mitigation. It is our intention to do so, but I can't say how much we are going to spend now,” he said in response to questions from Opposition's spokesman on transport and works Mikael Phillips.
He continued: “The minister of finance is here, and he has suffered the same problems [in his constituency as] we have, so we think he will not only be sympathetic towards an allocation in preparation for many other events we are looking at.”
“It is not a matter of shifting the routine maintenance schedule, but we clean not just for the hurricane season. We also have a rainy season, so we intend to intervene pre-emptively in anticipation of the weather events in those seasons,” the MP for St Andrew West Central said.
“I don't want members to have the view that we are shifting from one schedule to the next. That doesn't solve our problems. But, for this year, based on what the professionals in weather tell us, that we may have more weather than normal and, therefore, I would be justifying for us to make an allocation in addition to what we have already placed in the budget,” he said.
Holness said that, while the $100-million programme which was effected with allocations to parliamentarians was not sufficient to do all that needed to be done, it can have an impact when added to the allocations available from the NWA. He said it could help to create some form of equity in strategic areas, while the Ministry of Local Government would be able to address much of the drain cleaning in their routine schedules.
“I am certain that if you were to take the budget from central Government, the budget from local government, and the budget from the NWA, you may not be at 100 per cent, but you would probably be close to about 50 per cent of the problem; that's my estimate,” Holness said.
He, however, cautioned that, in terms of mitigation, greater scrutiny will be needed as to how the projects are done and how the funds are spent.
“Because we all inside here know and understand the stories that go with them. Some of it does not always end up in the drains. The truth is that it sometimes end up going down the drain,” he suggested.
“I am saying that I agree we need to spend more money on mitigation. I agree that in the hurricane season and, in particular for this season, that we have to make additional allocations just to be on the safe side. But let us understand that shifting resources from one maintenance schedule to the next does not always solve the problem. Because it is not just one period of time within the year that we face a weather event like this,” he stated, noting that the period in which dengue fever is often more present in the population is close by.
“And secondly, while the resources may not be enough, if the MPs and councillors were to use the funds with greater efficiency we could have a greater impact,” Holness insisted.