Local voices, global choices in Jamaica

News and Press Release
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When bad weather comes to Mocho, one of the poorest areas of Jamaica, it brings chaos that can last for years.

In 2004 and 2007 major hurricanes struck this mountainous region, devastating livestock and farms and causing extensive damage to already poor infrastructure and facilities.

A slow and limited response from the government left Mocho's people feeling powerless, and all the more vulnerable to future natural disasters.

However, in one community, over the last couple of years a DFID-backed initiative has tackled this feeling of powerlessness. Starting off with an exercise in which local people shared stories about their everyday lives, the initiative has blossomed into a series of very practical actions.

Sharing experiences

The stories that the community members told reflected their experiences of poverty, in particular their sense of stigmatisation about coming from a very poor area like Mocho. "Mocho people are not fools," said 17-year-old Jemar, "but we are treated differently, especially if you go out to look for work... People always look at you in a certain way."

Hearing sentiments like these, individuals recognised that they were not alone. And when people started to voice their fears about the changing weather, the sense of shared grievance turned into a collective desire to take action.

Soon enough, the Mocho Community Development Association (MCDA) was formed. One of its main functions has been to work with charities and professional organisations to help local people develop new skills. Some community members have been trained in disaster response techniques, and others in alternative farming options such as greenhouse farming, drought management and water harvesting.

"I've learnt a lot more about climate change and how it affects the community," says Odette Eccles, a 39-year-old farmer. "I didn't realise that longer droughts were part of climate change. This is important for me because as a farmer I can plan better if I know that some of these things will be happening."

Back on the map

The MCDA also established a youth journalist group. Fifty students aged 9 to 18, including Jemar, were trained in news story-writing, interviewing, and recording methods. The group visited radio stations and newspapers, where they produced stories on deforestation, pollution and other climate-related issues. The group also started a newsletter, circulated to community members to raise awareness of these same subjects.

All this activity has made people outside Mocho take notice. The Jamaican media has latched on to the community and its concerns, with a feature even being published on the front page of the Jamaica Gleaner, the country's leading newspaper.

"It's like a new day has opened for Mocho - many people had forgotten about us, because the community was asssumed to be 'backward'," says local teacher Devon Brown. "This project has put us back on the Jamaican map in a positive way - and what's more, because of the training on climate change and disasters we are much better prepared for what the future brings."

Facts and stats

- The Mocha Community Mobilisation Project is led by Panos Caribbean. Partners are the Red Cross, the Global Environment Facility and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management.

- DFID is providing funding to Panos Caribbean between 2008-11. The allocation for 2008/09 is £75,029.

- Studies show that the Caribbean is a 'hot spot' for climate change impacts. Six Caribbean states, including Jamaica, are ranked among the top 40 countries in the world affected by extreme weather events such as hurricanes and floods (Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index, 2009).