Environmental Issues in Jamaica

Capital: Kingston
Population: 2, 719, 000
Land Surface: 11, 424 km2
Population Density: 252 persons/km2
Urban Population: 53.5%
Population Growth Rate: 0.4%
Currency: Jamaican dollar

Jamaica is prone to a number of natural hazards. The island is located within the hurricane belt and has experienced many hurricanes. Jamaica has also a history of seismic activity. Major earthquakes affected Montego Bay and Kingston in 1958, and Kingston in1993. Kingston, the most densely populated area is also the most active seismic zone. Landslides have resulted in deaths and disrupted major transportation networks. The island has experienced periodic drought with the most recent occurrences being in 1994 and 2000. In 2000 drought resulted in estimated losses of Jam$250 million in crops and livestock.

Jamaica is also at risk to man made hazards including oil spills and fires. Environmental issues include deforestation and environmental pollution. Jamaica has experienced heavy rates of deforestation. Coastal waters are polluted by industrial waste and sewage and some damage to coral reefs has been noted. .Air pollution in Kingston from vehicle emissions is also an environmental issue.
The two most recent major hurricanes were Gilbert, a Category 3 storm, in 1988, caused 45 deaths and affected 500, 000 persons; and Hurricane Ivan, Category 4, in September 2004. The eye of Hurricane Ivan past 30 miles south of Jamaica, therefore significantly reducing the anticipated impact on the country and its capital Kingston. Preparedness measures evacuated up to 150, 000 people from potential danger zones. Nevertheless, 14 people were killed and communities, infrastructure, the environment and the agricultural sector were severely affected. In some communities, running water was hardly available for a period of up to two months. At the end of October 2004, the Jamaican government created the Office of National Reconstruction (ONR).

Floods can occur at any time, but are most often associated with hurricanes or tropical depressions. Low-lying plains as well as closed limestone valleys are most at risk. Flood rains often trigger landslides. Droughts are a regular occurrence, especially on the South Coast where there is very little rainfall and agriculture depends on pumped water.

The two largest earthquakes on record took place in 1692 and 1907. Earthquake activity is being monitored by a series of seismographs and accelerographs which are operated by the Earthquake Unit of the University of the West Indies at Mona.

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Relief Coordination (ODIPERC), was established in July 1980. In 1993, the name ODIPERC was changed to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), a statutory body, under the provisions of Section 15 of the Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Act. Operating out of the Ministry of Land and Environment, ODPEM is overseen by a Board of Management that oversees activities. The Board of Management appoints the Director General who leads a staff complement divided into the following divisions: Corporate Services, Preparedness and Emergency Operations, Mitigation, Planning and Research and Projects Implementation, Development and Monitoring Unit. The National Disaster Committee (NDC), established by the Disaster Preparedness Act of 1993, is an interagency body chaired by the Prime Minister of Jamaica and comprised of various ministers, permanent functionaries and agency heads. Under the leadership of the current Prime Minister, the NDC meets quarterly, as do the subcommittees. The NDC is the main coordinating body for disasters affecting the country. The Prime Minister as Chairman is the overall manager of the nation’s preparedness, mitigation, recovery and rehabilitation efforts.

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