Jamaica ready to respond to disasters that threaten agriculture
This was revealed by Chairman of the National Agricultural Disaster Risk Management Committee, Al Powell, at a JIS Think Tank Tuesday (September 1).
Mr. Powell pointed out that, in the past the focus was on recovery, following a disaster, however, he said that disaster management does not just entail recovery.
He said that the committee was formed in April, 2008, to enhance the national disaster programme by taking a more proactive approach, not just to hurricane hazards, but also floods, droughts, landslides, fire, crop and livestock infestation and any agricultural emergency.
Hazard refers to the hurricane, flood, drought or fire, and the disaster is the damage caused by these.
Committee Consultant, Dr. Balfour Spence, who also addressed the Think Tank, said that with such a plan in place, Jamaica was now in a position to manage disasters in an effective and sustainable manner, by looking at what is to be done to prepare for, mitigate, respond to, recover and rehabilitate following disasters.
He said that, while agriculture contributed J$13.8 billion to the country's GDP in 2004, when Hurricane Ivan hit Jamaica that year, "in four hours, more than half of the 12-month earning was effectively wiped out, with J$8.5 billion in damage."
"Any year with more than one hurricane strike can spell disaster for a country," he warned. Using Grenada as an example, he said that country suffered a 287% GDP loss due to damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
"To reduce this kind of crisis, the plan ensures that disaster risk management and mitigation are a regular part of the agricultural landscape. One goal is to strengthen the capacity of RADA, as the lead agency, to ensure that all aspects of disaster risk management, as detailed in the plan, are met by 2015," Dr. Spence said.
Senior Director for Technology and Training at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) and co-chair of the committee, Phillip Chung, said the operational dynamics of the plan were based on synergy with the National Disaster Risk Management Committee, as well as parish committees and involvement at the agricultural extension level.
"Further Action initiated by the committee so far has included a comprehensive risk and hazard mapping exercise, to detail best practices in the selection and use of land, as well as sites for agricultural undertaking," he said.
He reported that information brochures on disaster risk management had also been printed and distributed, and some 93 persons including farmers, extension officers and others from stakeholder entities such as the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and the 4-H Clubs had received livelihood assessment training.
The training, he added, looks at disasters and their impact on livelihoods, including easy storage facilities for produce when disaster threatens, so that food may be reaped and stored to be released on the market after a disaster, keeping food supplies and prices stable.
"Food security is therefore a critical element of the plan" he noted.
Supporting the point, Dr. Spence said that with 20% of the labour force employed in the agricultural sector, livelihood training was a critical part of disaster planning.
The committee has a 22-stakeholder membership, which includes a range of agricultural institutions and entities such as the ODPEM and the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA).
The committee is currently meeting monthly, given the fact that the country is in the hurricane season. Meetings are held every other month outside of the hurricane season.
The National Agricultural Disaster Risk Management Plan is funded by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).