Start Those Preparations Now!! - Seismic Forum 2014


UNDP Seismic workshop reveals Jamaica still ill prepared for a major earthquake- Roadmap for seismic risk preparedness to be created

January 13, 2014

Following a March 2013 mission in which noted international seismic expert, Dr. Eric Calais, urged Jamaica to prepare for large earthquakes, the call comes again from several local, regional and international stakeholders at the Seismic Risk Forum organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the and the Office of Disaster preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).

The forum held from 8 to 9 January 2014 in Kingston, Jamaica, saw experts from Haiti, Japan, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, and several government and non-government agencies in Jamaica, as well as the private sector, sharing experiences, challenges and best practices for seismic risk reduction and building national resilience.  The main outcome of the meeting will be a roadmap defining key activities, roles, responsibilities and resources for enhanced seismic risk preparedness in Jamaica.

Dr. Arun Kashyap UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative, while speaking at the Opening Ceremony indicated that the issue of Seismic risk preparation should not just be seen as international priority but also as an opportunity for collaborations towards the safety of the people of Jamaica. He therefore welcomed the forum as an important next step in this preparatory process.

“Jamaica is prone to serious earthquakes; in fact, many geologists estimate that an earthquake of the same magnitude that devastated Haiti in 2010 is expected to occur without any warning….We [have heard] substantiation that will demonstrate the gravity of the seismic risk confronting the country and the urgent need to remedy the tardiness in tackling it” he noted.

At the same time Dr. Kashyap signalled appreciation for the commitment that the Government of Jamaica is demonstrating via its engagement in the Seismic Risk Forum.

Dr. Kashyap’s concerns were resounded several times throughout the forum with all stakeholders indicating that while Jamaica has some existing efforts, the island is not prepared for a major earthquake and urgent changes should be effected to address the country’s exposure and vulnerability.

Speaking on day one of the forum, University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer, Prof. Simon Mitchell and ODPEM representatives Michelle Edwards and Karema Aikens-Mitchell all indicated that several recent studies have shown Jamaica’s seismic risk level to be worrysome with increased stress activity in fault lines and several emergency response systems not being adequately prepared to cope with a national pandemic respectively.

Additionally, UWI’s Maurice Mason from the Institute of Sustainable Development in his presentation on the likely impact of the 1907 Earthquake should it have occurred in 2007, highlighted the severe economic impact that such an earthquake could have on Jamaica’s current economy. Varied sectors including housing, government buildings and emergency infrastructure demonstrated the potential to stand at 15% building loss, with an excess of US $5.5 billion in general losses, and construction costs that would exceed US$7-8B; utilities such as electricity could be out of service for 4-5 months with the transportation and distribution sector being the most affected. Loss in employment was estimated at 911,000 in the first 4-5 months.

For their part, international partners all urged the island to prepare for hazards, especially with no indication of when an event such as an earthquake could occur.  This message was carried by UNESCO’s Cesar Toro in his presentation on Tsunami and Other Coastal Hazards, Mr. Haro Kubo in his presentation on lessons learnt from the Great East Japan and Great Hanshin earthquakes, Dr. Claude Prepetit from Haiti’s Mines and Energy 0ffice on lessons learnt from Haiti’s earthquake, Ms. Luz Bonilla in her presentation on Implementation of the National Seismic Risk Plans, Best Practices and Lessons Learnt in Dominican Republic, Mr. Carlos Gutierrez-Martinez in Earthquake experiences from Mexico and Chile’s Carmen Correa who spoke of the National Civil protection system- Current development and Future Challenges.

Collaboratively, the stakeholders worked in groups and did presentations around five themes, namely: Identification of Capacity Development & Resources; Regulatory Framework/Building Codes; Requirements for Assessment of Critical Facilities; Roles and Responsibilities; and Communication and Awareness. In the end, this wide ranging group of stakeholders, over the course of one and a half days, were able to identify the critical seismic risk issues to be addressed and varied systematic and structural changes to be made to improve Jamaica’s resilience to seismic events. 

In making the necessary changes Hon. Noel Arscott, Minister of Local Government and Community Development, in his message on the opening day of the forum reaffirmed the support of his Ministry to addressing this important area, noting that efforts were ongoing to have a Building Bill tabled in Parliament before March 31 this year.

“I cannot stress enough the need for us to ensure and maintain the structural integrity of our nation’s buildings. This is why we are forging ahead with plans to have the revised building bill passed. We have to recognize that the more vulnerable an infrastructure the more damages are likely to be sustained in the case of natural disasters” Minister Arscott said.

Similarly, the Hon. Robert Pickersgill, Minister for Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, equally stressed the importance of being prepared for seismic hazards when he spoke at the closing ceremony.  Minister Pickersgill called the forum very critical and timely and noted that Jamaica’s “preparedness and alert levels must be consistently high…we should be familiar with our drills and plans for schools, offices and our homes….I would like to see a special focus on, and special plans made for this group in terms of raising awareness and improving preparedness not only to earthquakes but for all natural disasters”

Minister Pickersgill also noted that the Ministry had efforts underway to prepare new development orders indicating the type of development that could take place in varied areas.

Adding to the continued efforts at disaster preparedness, several other new changes may soon be coming as the forum sought to develop a roadmap in partnership with all stakeholders: working towards the approval of the building act; identifying critical facilities and assessing same; establishing south-south partnerships towards seismic risk reduction in Jamaica and sensitizing various government and non-government entities.

The forum ended with commitments from UNDP and ODPEM to continue to support the process through policy and legislative reform, interventions at the local and national level to improve preparedness and support for the preparation of the Road Map/Outcome Document to provide a framework on the way forward.

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