The Caribbean region is already experiencing the effects of climate change, and this is only expected to worsen. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) projections for hurricanes in the north tropical Atlantic predict more intense storms with larger peak wind speeds and heavier near storm precipitation. Jamaica is acutely vulnerable to climate change, lying in the path of destructive hurricanes and susceptible to drought, flooding and extreme heat2 . It also lies within the seismically active northern boundary of the Caribbean Plate. An analysis of the natural hazards between 1981 and 2018 using EMDAT data shows that 36 per cent of the disasters in the region were in Haiti, followed by 11 per cent in Jamaica (WFP, 2019).
Jamaica is classified as an upper-middle income country (UMIC) belonging to the category of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). However, it struggles with low growth and high public debt. Jamaica’s exposure to natural hazards poses a significant threat to its macroeconomic outlook, with hurricane risk more significant than earthquake risk (GFDRR, 2016). For example, after Hurricanes Dean (2007 Atlantic Hurricane season) and Gustav (2008), Jamaica’s inflation growth rate peaked at more than 20 percent, gradually declined, and then again rose to 13 percent in 2010 after Tropical Storm Nicole (World Bank, 2018). It is estimated that in 1988 Hurricane Gilbert (Category 5) cost Jamaica 28 percent of its GDP (IDB, 2018). Floods are the most frequently occurring natural hazard, and are often linked with severe weather systems, frontal systems and troughs (low atmospheric pressure), and less often with hurricanes and storms. Next to floods, landslides are the most frequently occurring hazard. Jamaica is particularly vulnerable to drought, affecting both specific parishes and generally more widespread, because of the country’s reliance on agriculture and poor national water storage systems. Since Jamaica lies within the tropics, it is dependent on more than one rainy season and any deficiency can lead to damaging drought conditions (OPDEM, n.d.). The 2005 drought led to losses in the agriculture sector amounting to J$261. million (Spence, J. n.d). The 2014-2015 drought was one of the worst recorded since the 1970s. Crop failure along with bushfires led to losses amount to J$1 billion (IPS, 2016). At a regional level, the Caribbean Drought Bulletin details drought situations at regional and national levels.
Disasters continue to increase Jamaica’s sovereign debt level. Average annual losses from hurricanes to build infrastructure are likely to amount to US$67 million. Critical infrastructure needs to be modernised and expanded and, in recognition of this, Jamaica has signed onto international initiatives the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investments (CCRIC) and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI).
Jamaica is also the current co-chair, along with Great Britain, of the NDC Partnership, a coalition that helps developing countries to update their climate action plans.
At the regional level, there are numerous mechanisms and initiatives to help national agencies reduce extreme weather events related risks and to respond to crises (ODI, 2021). The Caribbean states were “early adopters of coordinated intergovernmental approaches to managing disaster risk, faced as they are with a shared high exposure to natural hazards and compromising mainly smaller developing economies with relatively limited resources to manage risk” (GAR, 2019: p.306). Jamaica is a member of regional initiatives such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Caribbean Institute for Meteorology & Hydrology (CIMH) and various other regional initiatives such as CREWS and the broader Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)8 . From a governance perspective, the island is divided into three counties – Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey – which are subdivided into 14 parishes.