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Researchers last Wednesday suggested a raft of measures to limit the possible hurricane damage in Portmore, St Catherine. Topping the list is the need to enforce legislation, which regulate not only the construction of housing developments, but also people's actions concerning their treatment of the environment.
David Smith (from left), assistant resident representative for programmes with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), chats with Ronald Jackson, director general for the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), and Carol Narcisse, resource mobilisation and communications specialist with the UNDP, ahead of last Wednesday's UNDP-ODPEM seminar on disaster risks for Jamaica's urban areas. (Photo: Bryan Cummings)
"A lot of people don't know how they expose themselves to loss - loss of lives and loss of property - (without recognizing) that it is not just the regulatory authorities being a nuisance," said researcher Eleanor Jones, managing director of Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL).
The ESL boss was speaking at last Wednesday's United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) seminar, which looked at disaster risks for Jamaica's urban areas. The seminar was held at the Knutsford Court Hotel.
Jones's suggestion is informed by a study, entitled 'IDB Adaptation for Climate Change and Disaster Mitigation: Township Planning Strategies for Storm Surge in the Caribbean', which was carried out by ESL, in collaboration with Smith Warner International. The 2006 study, carried out over six to eight months and funded through the International Development Bank (IDB), found that Portmore, which has a population of more than 200,000 altogether, was particularly vulnerable to storm surges and inland flooding, given its location in the Rio Cobre Delta and at the south-east end of the island.
Among the communities in the municipality listed at highest risk are Hunt's Bay, Waterford, Dawkins Pond, Hellshire and Port Henderson.
Against this background, Jones said it was necessary to ensure the maintenance of the dyke that kept the communities of Portmore from being inundated by water, which was traditionally absorbed by the abundance of wetlands in the Rio Cobre delta.
"(There is the) need to carry out condition surveys along this structure, for both the river and land side, at least once every five years," she said. "If structural deficiencies are noted from these surveys, then these should be repaired before the hurricane or rainy season occurs in the year of the survey."
At the same time, Jones said it was necessary for drains to be maintained. As it is now, she said that people were extending their homes onto the reservation for drains.
The study also turned up the need for the construction of revetments or seawalls along the shoreline.
"Construction of or encouragement for the formation of sand dunes in areas that may not be built up close to the waterline," the ESL boss added, while also citing the need for land reclamation efforts "to raise the land for development above the predicted storm surge limits".
She said, too, that there was also the need for a public education campaign to help build awareness of the dangers and help give people a say in the solutions. She noted that this was especially important given climate change predictions, which could promote sea level rise, stronger storms, etc.
It was a need that was reflected in the presentation by researchers Norman Harris and Rupert Green of the Mines and Geology Division. They also conducted vulnerability assessments on Portmore, resulting in findings of the communities' vulnerability to flooding.
Portmore Mayor Keith Hinds, for his part, has asked the UNDP for between $3 million and $4 million to finance such a campaign. He noted that there was no question of the need.
"When the time comes for storm surges and hurricanes, Portmore takes prominence. But when the time comes for funds, Portmore takes a back seat," he said.
He added that it was critical that people be allowed to take responsibility for their actions, but they first had to be made aware of what their actions meant.