Editorial

Are we ready for the hurricane season?

Friday, May 04, 2018

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Two weeks ago the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued its Article IV Assessment of Jamaica's stabilisation programme, stating: “ i mplementation remains strong five years into the authorities' economic reforms, with public debt firmly on a downward trajectory”.

This was a key trigger for the rating agency, Fitch, to immediately announce an upgrade of Jamaica's debt profile. The multilateral development banks are also queueing up to offer us more financial support.

These are important votes of confidence, but they come with a sobering warning: “Reform fatigue and constraints to implementation capacity pose risks to the Government's economic programme. Continued sluggish growth, high crime, and worsening rural poverty all risk undermining public support for the Government's policy efforts. Delays in settling public sector wage negotiations are generating fiscal uncertainty, and Jamaica's debt remains vulnerable to shocks, including from natural disasters.”

What the IMF is saying is that all the hard-won gains, achieved over five years of the most stringent macroeconomic stabilisation programme in recent world history, could be lost in a single day if we are hit by a hurricane like the one that inflicted damage worth 224 per cent of Dominica's gross domestic product last year.

The IMF is urging us to get serious about preparing for the inevitability of being hit by one of these storms that are getting stronger and more frequent.

There is vibrant public discourse on the challenges of low growth and high crime, but we need a similar focus on the risk from natural disasters. Jamaica dodged the bullet last year, but since then what has been done to reduce our vulnerability to storms next hurricane season? Have building codes been updated and implemented so our infrastructure can survive increasingly stronger storms? Have we made any improvements in drainage? Have we actually enforced zoning by removing informal structures along river paths? Do we know which vital public and private assets must be protected? Do we know the cost of replacing those assets, and do we have a plan to insure them?

We all saw last year when our growth aspirations were totally frustrated by sustained rains. Imagine the impact of a full fledged storm. It is clear that the IMF programme has limited the space to make the necessary investments and to provide the necessary support to the private sector. However, it would be entirely irresponsible to delay a concerted plan to anticipate a major natural disaster.

Our development partners have offered support for the massive task of retrofitting our infrastructure and creating serious regulations to make sure we can survive a mega storm. This is a clarion call to the Government to move with alacrity to forge a plan that mobilises the support of our development partners and has the support of all local stakeholders.

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