Coping with Climate Change: Adaptation Dialogue Stresses Urgency

Eighteen Caribbean citizens died in widespread floods over the Christmas season, on the islands of St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. These were unseasonal storms – perhaps unprecedented, certainly rare – after an exceptionally quiet 2013 hurricane season. As the UK Guardian’s Carrie Gibson notes, “The Caribbean is on the receiving end of the effects of climate change – it has to adapt and respond to the consequences, even though it has contributed little to the problem.” (See the link to her December 31 article below).

Hurricane Sandy approaching the coast of St. Vincent in 2012. (Photo: SVG Times Facebook page)

Hurricane Sandy approaching the coast of St. Vincent in 2012. (Photo: SVG Times Facebook page)

I understand that climate change means this kind of awful unpredictability. So, how do our small tropical islands adapt to the growing symptoms of climate change, whether gradual or sudden in their onset? The non-governmental organization (NGO) Panos Caribbean (headquartered in Haiti and with an office in Kingston) has been rooting out information and encouraging dialogue on the issue. Since 2011 Panos has partnered with the Adaptation Fund‘s NGO Network, through Germanwatch. The Network, established in 2007 under the Kyoto Protocol, supports NGOs in seven other developing countries.

Bridges, homes and roads were destroyed during floods and landslides in St. Lucia at Christmas time. (Photo: St Lucia News Online)

Bridges, homes and roads were destroyed during floods and landslides in St. Lucia at Christmas time. (Photo: St Lucia News Online Facebook page)

At a Panos civil society dialogue on adaptation last October, Gerald Lindo from the Climate Change Division of the Ministry of Land, Water, Environment and Climate Change (what a mouthful that is) gave us an overview of the concerns, and of government’s climate change policy. Sea level rise, he asserted, is “worse than we thought” and accelerating. Since much of the Caribbean’s economic activity takes place on or near the coast (including of course tourism) this is obviously a huge concern. A one meter rise would be disastrous. Meanwhile, an overall drying out of the climate, with rising temperatures is expected; but when it does occur, rainfall will be more intense (as it was at Christmas for our neighbors). Coral reefs that protect our coast and create our beautiful beaches will suffer massive die-offs with even a one per cent increase in sea temperature. Areas like Portmore will be under threat (what a mistake it was to build massive housing developments in Portmore, on reclaimed swamp – but then we were not talking about climate change in the seventies).

There are plans to shore up Negril's fast-eroding beach, including the controversial "shore lock" technology, and the installation of breakwaters under the Adaptation Fund. (Photo: Gleaner)

There are plans to shore up Negril‘s fast-eroding beach, including the controversial “shore lock” technology, and the installation of breakwaters under the Adaptation Fund. (Photo: Gleaner)

Gerald Lindo: It's worse than we thought. (My photo)

Gerald Lindo: It’s worse than we thought. (My photo)

While Jamaica’s focus is clearly on adaptation, Mr. Lindo noted, he is concerned about the need to make Jamaicans really aware of climate change; to study the secondary or spin-off effects that many communities already experience; and to “mainstream” the issue of climate change in all sectors of government, so that each can develop its own adaptation plans. This has not yet happened. For example, the Office of Utilities Regulation has not included the likely increased use of energy (for air conditioning, refrigeration etc) in its forecast. Strategies for the government, Mr. Lindo concluded, should include creating networks (no “silos”); the development of research, technology and knowledge; and use of the best science to tackle concerns like water resource management.

Ingrid Parchment (foreground): Let's keep the momentum going.

Ingrid Parchment (foreground): Let’s keep the momentum going. In the background are Danielle Andrade and Suzanne Stanley of the Jamaica Environment Trust.

We are already seeing “real changes” in rural Jamaica, commented Mr. Hugh Dixon of the Southern Trelawny Environmental Protection Association (STEPA), stressing that a sustained public awareness campaign needs to start now. There must be a sense of ownership in communities. Ingrid Parchment of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (which manages the now-threatened Portland Bight Protected Area), agreed that on-the-ground discussions and information-sharing should be “at the top of the list.” But it is not so easy to draw in audiences, said Danielle Andrade of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET); grassroots outreach and mobilization is needed, especially in rural areas. Logistically it’s tricky, but asking elected representatives to help might be one way.

Environmentalists listen closely at the Panos Caribbean dialogue.

Environmentalists listen closely at the Panos Caribbean dialogue.

Update: Soon after this discussion the Climate Change Policy Framework and Action Plan was tabled in the Houses of Parliament as a Green Paper (draft) by Climate Change Minister Hon. Robert Pickersgill on November 5, 2013. A copy of it can be found at http://www.mwh.gov.jm/index.php/focus-areas/climate-change/draft-policy-framework. The Ministry was inviting written comments from the public, NGOs etc. The December 20 deadline is now passed.

Karen McDonald-Gayle of the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica makes a point.

Karen McDonald-Gayle of the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica makes a point.

So what is being done by the Planning Association of Jamaica, which is the Jamaican government’s implementing agency for the Adaptation Fund? As of November 2012 it had US$9.9 million in the kitty, to be spent over 42 months up to March, 2016. 35 per cent had already been made available in eight parishes. The National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) is to work on the installation of breakwater structures in Negril, after public consultations, to slow the erosion of the beach. Preliminary work is under way. The Ministry of Agriculture, through the Rural Agricultural Development Agency and the National Irrigation Commission, is working to improve water management systems. This includes the building of micro dams in Manchester, the establishment of water users’ groups, the rehabilitation of an existing dam in Yallahs, St. Thomas, and training in soil conservation, land husbandry, rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation. The Ministry of Tourism with the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management and NEPA, is conducting training in climate change awareness. A “moderately technical” Climate Risk Atlas is under development and a “digestible” Hazard Risk Atlas is complete.

Storm surge during Hurricane Sandy in Jamaica. (Photo: Gleaner)

Storm surge during Hurricane Sandy in Jamaica. (Photo: Gleaner)

Clifford Mahlung, who heads the Meteorological Service of Jamaica's Climate Change Unit, was a truly valuable and helpful resource person during the discussion.

Senior climate negotiator Clifford Mahlung, who heads the Meteorological Service of Jamaica’s Climate branch, was a truly valuable and helpful resource person during the discussion.

What is civil society doing under the Adaptation Fund? The training of media is under way and Panos is seeking to make environmentalists more widely available to local journalists to increase knowledge levels among the public. The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition is planning more consultations on the logistics hub and other hot issues (environmental groups such as JET are members of the Coalition).

Numerous related issues were raised by the NGOs involved in the Panos dialogue. The Jamaica Conservation & Development Trust’s Robert Stephens (who chairs the Jamaica Protected Areas Trust) wants the government’s endorsement of his plan for carbon trading involving the forests of the Blue Mountains. A representative of the Negril Area Environmental Protection Trust spoke of a fiery stakeholders’ meeting organized with Adaptation Fund funding: You can’t brush stakeholders’ concerns under the carpet.” There seem to be so many environmental concerns in Negril: land use, squatting in the morass and along the river; sewage treatment; and the development of what someone called a “ghetto on the beach.”

So what did we take away from this hugely informative (and at times passionate) dialogue? Firstly, implementation of climate change adaptation projects is not moving fast enough. There was an overwhelming sense of urgency. Secondly, communication between government and NGOs (representing civil society) must become stronger. “Government needs to recognize NGOs as partners,” said one NGO member. Thirdly, it’s vital to ensure that the “ordinary Jamaican” understands climate change and how to adapt to its uncertainties. Creative ways must be found to spread the word.

Let’s work more closely together. Let’s reach out to communities.

And let’s get on with it! The time is now. Climate change is happening, and faster than we think.

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Last Sunday of the Year: Sunday, December 29, 2013

It’s that period between Christmas and New Year when some of us get very reflective and philosophical. We look back over the past year, and look forward to the next; so there are endless “reviews” and “previews” in the media and elsewhere. As for me, I prefer to look forward, so no reviews for me. And I am really trying hard to live in the present. Like Arsenal Football Club manager Arsène Wenger, who likes to say that he takes it one game at a time.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

More taxes looming? I noted in my last post that the government has hinted at the possibility of imposing General Consumption  Tax on gasoline. The mere mention of it made us shudder. Now the government has told the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that tax revenues have fallen short, so they think they must tax us some more (see the Letter of Intent dated December 3, 2013 on the IMF website). Well, of course tax revenues have fallen; the economy has been contracting over an extended period; imports have decreased; people are not spending. And how is adding more taxes going to help?

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

Now, there’s a very good article by financial analyst Dennis Chung on caribjournal.com (a website worth subscribing to) headlined “Jamaica in 2014.” Dennis is quite right. We can’t under-estimate the importance of confidence in almost any economic scenario (something I learned while working in the eurobond sector in London). The government must grasp this concept. Dennis also warns: The government cannot take the path of previous administrations and seek to tax our way out of the problem, as this will only lead to short-term fiscal gain and long-term loss. This has been the path chosen in the past and it has not worked.” But based on the Appendix to the Jamaican Government’s Letter of Intent to the IMF, this is pretty much what it plans to do.

Dennis talks about the two major hindrances to our economic growth: bureaucracy and crime. On the latter issue, former Contractor General Greg Christie has pointed out that the World Economic Forum identified government inefficiency, crime and corruption as major impediments to Jamaica’s economic growth. So let’s keep that in the equation, too.

No to debt swap: Minister of Finance Peter Phillips has ruled out the idea of a third debt swap. Well, of course that is a no-no, Minister Phillips. The private sector, led by Scotiabank Jamaica, made it abundantly clear after the last one that they would not countenance such a thing.

Save Goat Islands!

Save Goat Islands!

Eastern Caribbean floods: Our Prime Minister has sent her sympathies to the islands of St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines that suffered terribly from a Christmas storm and subsequent flooding. That’s nice, but could we perhaps have sent some assistance? Some Jamaica Defence Force soldiers or other manpower at least?

Relief supplies arrive in St. Lucia from Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo: Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, St. Lucia/Facebook)

Relief supplies arrive in St. Lucia from Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo: Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, St. Lucia/Facebook)

In my last post, I omitted to include a very disturbing story highlighted by Annie Paul on her blog, Active Voice“NOT dead on arrival! No Sir! I will not rest in peace!” tells the tale of a man whom the police thought they had killed in a “shootout.” On arriving at the hospital he sat up and declared himself not dead, meanwhile pointing out the policeman who had tried to kill him. He was then put under police guard in hospital. What has happened to him? Has INDECOM investigated? Read the story at anniepaul.net.

Deaths on the road: Despite the best efforts of the National Road Safety Council, fatalities on the road will end up higher than in 2012, which was 267 dead. What a terrible waste of lives – mainly through stupidity: overtaking, distracted driving, driving much too fast. Are we still considering legislation on cell phones and driving? I’ve noticed this is so common in Kingston – drivers cut corners, hardly even notice you on the road when they have a phone glued to their ear.

Macka Diamond (right) and Lady Saw in a heated battle onstage at Sting 2013. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood)

Macka Diamond (right) and Lady Saw in a heated battle onstage at Sting 2013. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

Sting women: I believe Culture Minister Lisa Hanna told local press that the Boxing Day dancehall event called Sting (now celebrating thirty years) would be family-friendly. How terribly wrong she was. If people want to go to these shows, then it is their choice. But I think it is wrong for government to support any of these shows - whether the so-called Jazz Festival, Sting or whatever. The Jamaica Tourist Board sponsored this one for the first (and hopefully last) time. It’s a private sector thing. Moreover, I don’t want my hard-earned taxes to be spent on two women hurling obscenities at each other in the name of entertainment. I would rather it was spent on school furniture, or perhaps hospital equipment. (Did Minister Hanna attend this event, and if so what did she think about it? At the press conference, putting on her best Jamaican patois, she said: mi haffi deh deh”meaning: I have to be there)!

This was Sting 2013 on Boxing Day, sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board.

This was Sting 2013 on Boxing Day, sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board and endorsed by Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, who said she would have to be there. Was she? Did she watch this “performance” I wonder?

This question was asked on Facebook recently: “After decades and decades of violent crime in Jamaica, what do you do to protect yourself? I’m not talking about the grills and the burglar alarms and the gated communities and the not walking on the road at night. What do you do to protect your spirit and soul from the news every day of murders and rapes and assaults of men, women and children? When you or those you know have been personally affected, or when it is news reports about people you do not know?” I believe that I wrestle with this question week in, week out. 

Protest signs in August Town after police killed Dennis Levy. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Protest signs in August Town after police killed Dennis Levy. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Revenge? Residents of August Town say that the police killed Dennis Levy on December 20 as an act of revenge for the murder of a District Constable and the injuring of a policewoman a short time earlier that day. August Town is  a small community tucked into the high green hills of St. Andrew near the University of the West Indies campus. It has suffered from gang warfare and political strife in the past; however the crime rate there has decreased this year. “They decided that someone had to die for the police,” said one resident, according to a report in today’s Sunday Gleaner.  

Tiefs continue to flourish: Here’s an interesting photo (from our Prime Minister’s constituency) showing a light post festooned with “throw-ups” – that is, illegal electricity connections. I will not comment except to say that the Jamaica Public Service Company has its work cut out…

Illegal electricity connections in Kingston.

Illegal electricity connections in Kingston.

Kudos to…

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Yohan Blakeour lovely sprinter, whose YB Afraid Foundation has partnered with the private sector and individuals to help young people. In particular, the Foundation supports the Mt. Olivet Children’s Home in Manchester. It held some special events and a motivating workshop over Christmas. Big ups to the young man and wishing you great success in 2014!

Principal of the Lethe Primary and Infant School in St James, Anthony Murray (right), accepts the Jamaica Teaching Council/Ministry of Education and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Leadership in Education Award, from Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites, at a recent ceremony at the school. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Principal of the Lethe Primary and Infant School in St James, Anthony Murray (right), accepts the Jamaica Teaching Council/Ministry of Education and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Leadership in Education Award, from Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites, at a recent ceremony at the school. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A young principal, Anthony Murray, who has guided his school (Lethe Primary and Infant School in St. James) to some great results. He recently received an award for his efforts from the government and UNESCO. We do know that there are many dedicated teachers out there! And yes, Minister Thwaites, the Effective Principals’ Training Programme is a worthwhile effort. It is a pity that 49 principals have refused to participate. In fact, it is very unimpressive.

Journalist and producer of the excellent “Live at Seven” show on CVM Television Yolande Gyles Levy, who produced an excellent feature on the fight to save the Portland Bight Protected Area/Goat Islands earlier this year. She gave an update from her perspective on the program on Friday night, as follows: Nothing much has changed. The government, she said is still waiting on a written proposal from China Harbour Engineering Company. Based on that, the government will conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment, which will be paid for by the Chinese firm. Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies spoke on “Live at Seven” about a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the logistics hub. When host Simon Crosskill asked if he could see a copy he said he could – but “Live at Seven” has not seen it yet.

The St. Mary Chapter of G2K (the young professionals arm of the Jamaica Labour Party), who held a Christmas treat for over 100 children from the Annotto Bay community over the holidays. And “big ups” to all those many organizations, both domestic and overseas-based, that brought joy to under-privileged Jamaicans during the period. I hope we will remember all our vulnerable and marginalized groups throughout the year, not just at Christmas.

The murders of two cousins in Clarendon over Christmas has caused much concern and anger, and has been reported widely abroad, since one of the young women, Franciena Johnson was a Brooklyn resident. The police are now suggesting that a jealous boyfriend may have been the cause. Just this weekend in St. James, a young woman and her infant son were murdered; the father of the child is being questioned. There have been so many tragedies involving young women, their infant children and jealous, vengeful partners. I have also noticed that women OF ALL AGES are murder victims, week in, week out – including, this week, a woman farmer in her sixties, in Sherwood Content, Trelawny (Usain Bolt’s home). So much pain. My condolences to all the families…

Renaldo Walton, 25, Parade Gardens (Tel Aviv), Kingston

Marva Henry, 56, Ebony Vale/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Ebony Vale/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Ramon Perkins, 20, Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth

Eulalee McIntosh, 64, Shaw Park/Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Norman Comrie, 30, Runaway Bay, St. Ann

Melessha Evans, 20, Irwin, St. James

Jeliana Evans, four months, Irwin, St. James

Unidentified man, Springfield, Westmoreland

Fernando Woolery, 26, Red Ground/Negril, Westmoreland

Geraldine Powell, 65, Sherwood Content, Trelawny

Killed by the police:

Dennis “Evian” Levy, 35, August Town, St. Andrew (previously reported as “Heavy Hand”)

Arlene Robinson, mother of Nordia Fearon, holds a picture of her slain daughter, who went missing with Franciena Johnson on the way to May Pen in Clarendon. Her body was found in Salt River. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Arlene Robinson, mother of Nordia Fearon, holds a picture of her slain daughter, who went missing with Franciena Johnson on the way to May Pen in Clarendon. Her body was found in Salt River. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Franciena Johnson kisses her boyfriend, who has since been arrested in connection with her murder. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Franciena Johnson kisses her boyfriend, who has since been arrested in connection with her murder. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)