Environment

We're losing money because we treat the environment poorly — PIOJ

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

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The director general of the Planning Institute of Jamaica has painted a grim picture of the state of the island's physical environment and has argued that poor environmental practices are to be blamed for much of the economic losses the country has sustained over the years.

Citing data from a recent review of some environmental indicators, Dr Wayne Henry noted, “Of 16 water management units assessed, 25 per cent were severely degraded; upwards of 30 per cent of freshwater sites monitored failed to meet national standards for faecal coliform; and the average status of the reefs was categorised as poor (based on the Coral Reef Health Index)”.

In addition to that, he referenced reports of land degradation and improper management for all categories of waste, evidenced daily by mounds of garbage left by the streetside, dumped in gullies, and washed up along the shoreline.

“A heavy shower of rain and the resultant blockage of drains in the urban environment, or the increasing disruption of life and livelihood underscores the link between our poor environmental practices and economic losses,” said Dr Henry.

To support his point, the PIOJ head made reference to three incidents of unseasonal rainfall between last year March and June which resulted in over $4 billion in loss and damage; and a four-and-a-halfhour period of rainfall in Montego Bay in November last year, which cost the Government loss and damage in the amount of $36.8 million.

“Note that the latter did not include costs of damage or loss to property or other assets belonging to business persons in the area,” he noted. “The examples cited are not uncommon incidents; they are features of a low resilient country in a multi-hazard zone and cumulatively have had negative impacts on the economy. Over the past two decades, the Jamaican economy has lost roughly one to two per cent of GDP each year to such disasters.”

Dr Henry was speaking last week at the Forest Forum convened by the Forestry Department in observance of International Day of Forests under the theme: “Forests and Sustainable Cities”.

The PIOJ head conceded that the country has had some successes in its quest for what he described as robust and sustainable growth and development, but said that it is yet to reap the full potential of the opportunities that abound.

“I acknowledge that the path to development and to sustainable prosperity outlined in Vision 2030 Jamaica is premised on Jamaica having a healthy natural environment (Goal 4), but is being stymied by poor environmental stewardship and less than adequate resilience. This is so despite the tremendous public education and outreach activities undertaken by organisations like the Forestry Department, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management and the National Environment and Planning Agency,” he said, suggesting that the absence of civic pride is deep-rooted among some.

Also last week, Dr Henry urged the planners developing the island's third city, as mandated by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, to incorporate forests into the city's design as one strategy of making it sustainable as per Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

“This would be a welcome paradigm shift in the way our urban centres are planned and designed. Thus, the forest would not be the casualty of urbanisation and development; instead, we could take advantage of the forests services in ensuring food security, reducing per capita environmental impact, safeguarding air quality, building disaster resilience, aiding climate change mitigation and adaptation, and improving resource efficiency,” the PIOJ head said.

The forest forum coincided with the Forestry Department's 80th anniversary, observed under the theme: “Eighty years of GROWTH: Safeguarding the Future”.

“I like the pun on the word GROWTH but am particularly impressed by the significance of the overall theme and its forward looking reach: Guiding our country; Reforesting our landscape; Opportunities abound (for livelihood, medicine and recreation); Working together with communities; Transferring knowledge; using Holistic approaches,” Dr Henry noted.

“Congratulations to Ms (Marilyn) Headley and the Forestry Department team on the role that each of you has played and continues to play in this OAK of an organisation firmly rooted in the Jamaican landscape, an example of vitality, resilience and strength,” he said.

Head of the European Union Delegation to Jamaica Ambassador Malgorzata Wasilewska, Director General in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Dr Sharon Crooks, and programme officer at United Nations Forum on Forests Njeri Kariuki also made remarks at the forum. Meanwhile, scientific presentations were made by senior director of the Forest Science and Technology Division of the Forestry Department Donna Lowe; director of the International Institute of Tropical Forestry in the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service in Puerto Rico Dr Ariel Lugo; executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency Ronald Jackson; co-manager and chief scientific officer at the Centre for Marine Sciences at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab Camilo Trench; and senior research officer and manager of the Research Branch of the Forestry Department Brahim Diop.

— Kimone Thompson

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