Mapping Hazards, Reducing Risks for Coastal Communities in Jamaica

June 27, 2011

Jamaica’s vulnerability to natural disasters is well-known. Its geographical location makes it vulnerable to hurricanes and to earthquakes. The island’s terrain also makes it prone to landslides in its hilly areas, and to flooding on its plains during heavy rainfall.

Disaster Risk Reduction and Planning as well as Vulnerability Reduction are therefore crucial for the island, particularly with an increase in extreme weather events such as hurricanes, flooding and drought in recent years, which some experts say may be attributed to the impact of climate change.

On June 16, the World Bank and the Planning Institute of Jamaica hosted a National Stakeholder Workshop to share findings of their Coastal Multi-Hazard Mapping and Vulnerability Assessments Project, implemented in Jamaican three communities. The mapping and assessments were carried out as part of the wider World Bank funded Hurricane Dean Emergency Recovery Loan was financed with a grant under the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery .The research and analysis conducted showed just how at-risk residents of coastal communities, who make up 60 percent of the island’s population, are. The three communities of Manchioneal in the parish of Portland, Morant Bay in the parish of St Thomas and Portland Cottage in the parish of Clarendon were all found to be susceptible to storm surges, wind hazard and seismic hazard. Morant Bay which is the capital of St Thomas was found to be most susceptible to river flooding. The town also has a number of formal and informal settlements in a flood plain area.

David Smith, whose firm Smith Warner International acted as lead consultant on the project, said that despite the fact that the vulnerability of Jamaican communities to natural hazards is well known, reports and discussions on this issue seem to have been falling on deaf ears over the years.

Some of these disaster risk reduction messages being preached are the same ones that we have been preaching over and over again but it just seems no-one is listening. The real challenge is to get buy-in at the community level,” Smith stated.

This is where the Coastal Multi-Hazard and Vulnerability Assessment project hopes to make a difference. The project intends to strengthen disaster risk management at the local level by assisting these communities in the development and preparation of adaptive strategies to cope with the impact of severe weather events associated with climate change.

The purpose of the project is to help the PIOJ in its efforts to better understand risks associated with natural hazards. It is important that this understanding is had not only by technocrats but also by policy makers and by the communities themselves,” explained Angelica Nunez, Project Team Leader from the World Bank.

The national workshop was a follow up to three community based workshops organized to share the findings of the assessments and the maps generated with community stakeholders. At these sessions, residents held lively discussions with the consultants and with representatives from the Planning Institute of Jamaica and the World Bank about the project findings and what it meant for development and disaster planning in their communities. Reproductions of the hazard maps generated helped citizens see clearly the natural hazard risks their communities face and gain a greater understanding of how to protect homes and livelihoods from these risks.

At the national workshop, key stakeholders from various state agencies and civil society groups worked together to develop recommendations for building disaster risk resilience at national and community levels. The participants brainstormed to identify how the information and outcomes of the study can be used by the different agencies and ministries in disaster risk reduction and response efforts.

Claire Bernard, Director of Sustainable Development and Regional Planning at the PIOJ, said the assessments and mapping done under the project would be replicated in other communities across the island and hailed the efforts as “a wonderful partnership between key government agencies and the World Bank.”

The project was guided by a steering committee which included various national agencies including the PIOJ, the Water Resources Management Authority, the Social Development Commission , the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management and the National Environment and Planning Agency.