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Jamaica: PIOJ strengthening capacity to contribute to disaster risk reduction

Govt. Jamaica
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KINGSTON (JIS): The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) is strengthening its capacity to contribute more significantly to the country's disaster risk reduction efforts.

Director of Sustainable Development and Regional Planning at the PIOJ, Claire Bernard, said that the agency has introduced a sustainable development planning model known as Threshold 21(T21), and is pursuing the creation of a national spatial plan, which will guide and safeguard developments islandwide against the impact of natural disasters, particularly storms and hurricanes.

She was speaking at a workshop on 'Strengthening Partnerships for Disaster Risk Reduction' held at the PIOJ's Oxford Road offices in Kingston on Wednesday (Aug. 12).

According to Ms. Bernard, the impact of hurricanes and tropical storms on Jamaica over the past 20 years had amounted to some $99.25 billion, with some

US$1.2 billion in losses over the last four years.

The cost of the damage against the Gross Domestic Product, she said, ranged from a high of 65 per cent, in the case of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, to an average of two to three per cent for the period between Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Tropical Storm Gustav last year.

These figures, she said, underestimate the impact of the disasters, "because what we have is the value of the loss, we don't have the slowdown on the economy and... other (attendant factors). The impact has really been stark."

Noting the need for better planning in some sectors, Ms. Bernard said that, currently, the PIOJ is using the T21, developed by the United States-based Millennium Institute, to guide some of its projections, as well as to identify areas of priority for macroeconomic pursuit.

T21, she said, comprised an environment, social and economic component, which "put us in a better position to make recommendations to the Government."

"So, for example, if you are looking at the economy in another five years, or so, what we have done is. (use) the information that we have from recording the damage and losses related to hurricane impact, and (say) you'll have a Hurricane Ivan strength impact, what will it mean to your projected macroeconomic outcomes," she explained.

Regarding the national spatial plan, Ms. Bernard said it is hoped that this will have a big impact on advising where developments are undertaken, by identifying no-build zones, among other things.

She informed that the PIOJ recently completed a set of poverty maps, working in collaboration with the Social Development Commission (SDC). "We are now in the process of developing a community level indicators programme, where we want to be able to record, track and monitor, critical social, economic, and environmental indicators at the community level," she said.

As Government intensifies efforts to improve the country's resilience to all forms of hazards, in order to minimise the overall socioeconomic and environmental impacts, the PIOJ, in recent times, has started to track the incidence and impact of fires.

Ms. Bernard noted that last year alone, there were 10,000 genuine fires, in which 50 lives were lost and 4,000 persons were left homeless. Fires have some environmental effect as well, through the burning of trees and the impact on species.

The workshop was organised by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) under its Building Disaster Resilient Communities Project, which aims to support greater civic responsibility and action to reduce the impact and risks posed by disasters in Jamaica.