'Prevention better than cure'

ODPEM urges more support for disaster mitigation

Associate editor — Features

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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In a bid last week to drum up support for disaster planning, the island's chief disaster management executive reasoned that since natural disaster is imminent given Jamaica's geographical location and subsequent exposure to climate shocks, it is wiser to spend resources mitigating and preparing for hazards rather than on relief efforts after disaster hits.

Major Clive Davis, director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, said some of its partners often use “financial constraints” as the excuse to opt out of donating or otherwise contributing to mitigation efforts.

“But,” he warned, “we cannot wait for things to happen [before we act].”

“When we reach out from time to time to regional and international partners for support in these preventative and mitigative-type activities, the challenge we have is that sometimes their priorities don't match ours, so the funding is not forthcoming. And when that happens, we get it on the back-end....our ports are filled,” he said.

“Yes, we want that kind of support, but we would prefer it on the front-end,” Major Davis said.

He was speaking last Thursday at the launch of a project designed to use nature-based strategies such as creating and maintaining coastal habitats, mangroves, including sea grass beds, and coral reefs, to reduce the potential damage of flooding, sea level rise, hurricane force winds, etc. It is called Resilient Islands and is being spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy, Jamaica Red Cross and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, with funding by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.

The four-year project started in 2017 and is expected to end in 2021. It is being implemented in Jamaica, Grenada and the Dominican Republic.

“Jamaica is located in the second-most hazard-prone region in the world,” Davis said Thursday. “[And] the heart of our production and economic centres either sit on or just a little above sea level. This starts with Kingston. We then include Montego Bay and, with the exception of three parish capitals, that is exactly where they sit — on the coastline.

“Any mention of the potential impact on the national tourism product, of course, sends shock waves through the nation [but more than that], the onset of climate change and the predictions of increases in the frequency and intensity of cyclones, coupled with sea level rise, will threaten the very existence of us Small Island Developing States,” Davis added.

He conceded that there are regional and international partners who give what he described as tremendous support to ODPEM.

“What happens though is that countries' and organisations' agendas change from time to time, and sometimes with that change it is not matching with our agenda,” he said, offering a generalised explanation for the lack of action on the part of some partners.

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