Building resilient Caribbean infrastructure: What about earthquakes, asks Jamaica’s Advocates Network?

Something needs to be done about disaster preparedness in the Caribbean. As with many pressing issues, we talk about it a lot but are not so good at implementing solid plans to protect ourselves. Disasters take the form of not only hurricanes, but also earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and drought (the latter is currently biting hard in Kingston).

Talking of our capital city (and beyond), high-rise developments continue apace, and there is the excitement over our tallest building (at 27 storeys high, it will be 10 higher than the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel). Work was due to start on this last month, but so far there is no sign of construction at the New Kingston site.

“It is important that you have a solid foundation in the event of earthquakes or unforeseen natural disasters,” says the developer. I trust that all the proper procedures and regulations are being followed.

The design concept of The Ascent on Oxford Road in Kingston, Jamaica, to be the island’s tallest building. (Photo from StudiOH Core Limited)

A recent UN Conference in Uruguay (The VIII Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas and the Caribbean), praised the Caribbean response to the La Soufrière volcanic eruption in Saint Vincent just two years ago. Early warning systems reportedly worked well, and there was no loss of life.

However, the University of the West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Centre in Trinidad and Tobago, which keeps tabs on all seismic activity in the Caribbean (you can follow them on Twitter @uwiseismic), is reportedly not receiving the funding it needs from regional governments to conduct research and boost its capacity. Meanwhile on Montserrat, Dominica and other Eastern Caribbean islands, volcanoes are simmering.

A recent photograph of a part of the Soufrière Hills volcano in Montserrat, which erupted in 1995, destroying the island’s capital and causing 19 deaths. The photograph was taken from a helicopter by Dr. Adam Stinton of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. For more photos, take a look at their Twitter account: @mvoms

Talking of government agencies, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) in Jamaica, which was so proactive some twenty years ago, seems almost moribund. It is hardly mentioned and I wonder if it still exists. It must have an extremely small portion of the new Budget. I must check.

So, is the attitude of the Jamaican and other Caribbean governments “Let’s keep fingers crossed”?

During the hurricane season, Jamaicans declare that “God will make sure it happens somewhere else, and not in Jamaica – because we are blessed.” This is not a government position, of course, but it makes me uneasy; I fear that we don’t take disaster preparedness seriously, and the almost total lack of public education (until perhaps one week before the start of the hurricane season) doesn’t help.

Then there is the matter of insurance. A disturbing article in the Washington Post is headlined: Insurers slashed Hurricane Ian payouts far below damage estimates, documents and insiders reveal.

A scene after last year’s Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida very hard. At least 160 people died, mostly in the southern United States but also in Cuba. (Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images)

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley would like to see two ships positioned and ready to help in case of a disaster in the Caribbean. She was speaking at the launch of the United Nations Early Warnings for All Initiative (EW4ALL) for the Caribbean, hosted by her country on February 6, a plan which came out of COP27 .

Well, the Jamaican Government’s infrastructure programme ploughs on (literally!) In the city, roads are widened and trees sacrificed, to make way for the all-conquering private automobile. In rural areas, it’s impossible to know how much deforestation has taken place to create more highways (and more to come). And the high-rise buildings continue to sprout wherever a reasonably-sized piece of land is cleared. Old houses are sacrificed along with most of the mature trees in their gardens. So it goes.

But with so much happening, are we keeping abreast of what is required? Are we trying to keep the community involved in disaster preparation, as many participants at the Uruguay Conference urged? As FEMA official Victoria Salinas observed:

“Building resilient infrastructure is not just about that infrastructure and its ability to withstand and adapt and bounce back from hazards…It is ultimately about people.”


At the back of our minds are the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, which I wrote about recently. The Advocates Network is also anxious to know whether all the “i’s” have been dotted and all the “t’s” crossed as far as ensuring our construction standards are up to par. Bear in mind that Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti all lie on the Enriquillo–Plantain Garden earthquake fault zone

Governance and Jamaica Construction Earthquake Mitigation

Kingston, Jamaica, Thursday, March 9, 2023: The recent earthquake devastation of buildings in Turkey and Syria resulted in the arrest of several public officials and Private sector developers. They have been accused of connections to a web of “government” corruption. There is a lesson here for “Risk Assessment” in Jamaica.

To illustrate the point, how many investors are financing and persons buying into developments that lack regular construction and structural testing, inspections and certification in writing? These are required at critical points by the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation [KSAMC] as the responsible entity under the 2018 Building Act.  

Additionally, are insurers and financial institutions aware of, in particular, the need to engage qualified professional teams, including structural engineers in the pre-planning, design and construction processes of high-rise buildings?  The authorities have reported that there are not enough inspectors for all the buildings rising up. This is inevitably resulting in a high probability of serious safety compromises and/or ‘illegitimate’ inspections and certification.

This should be a recommended safeguard, including to ensure if there are any structural defects, also  any unapproved developments and defective construction. These are critical for earthquake mitigation, to avoid  a repeat in Jamaica of the recent post-earthquake occurrences in Turkey and Syria.

The Advocates Network (AN) calls on the entities responsible for the governance of the construction industry and every investor and buyer of recently constructed high-rise buildings, to request immediately, copies of the approved documents, along with records of visits and certification of these buildings. The AN regards this as an urgent call, because Jamaica, likewise, is an earthquake prone country. We have a history of earthquakes of similar magnitude, with aftershocks, as those that occurred February 6 in Turkey and Syria. 

The Advocates Network is a group of concerned Jamaicans here and in the Diaspora, who believe that we should treat the governance of our country as serious business. Justice and fair play must not be compromised due to corruption. We call on more citizens and organizations to take a stand for integrity!

The Advocates Network is an unincorporated, non-partisan alliance of individuals and organizations advocating for human rights and good governance to improve the socio-economic conditions of the people of Jamaica and to transform lives. Our core objective is to forge an effective, broad-based collaboration of individuals and civil society organizations to support human rights and good governance issues.

Director of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) Paola Albrito commented at the Uruguay meeting:

“When we look across the landscape of the region, we have seen that risk management governance remains mostly reactive…Investment in resilient infrastructure is not yet embedded in our DNA.”


That is something we need to change. Let’s stop reacting when it’s almost too late. Let’s uncross our fingers and make sure we do everything we can to build our defences against whatever possible disaster (man-made or otherwise) might come our way.

Disasters can take many forms. After a dam holding iron ore waste from a mine broke, toxic mud smothered a huge area, polluting water and land and covering villages and towns in Brazil. (Photo: Twitter)

3 thoughts on “Building resilient Caribbean infrastructure: What about earthquakes, asks Jamaica’s Advocates Network?

    1. Oh my goodness, David! I was not aware of this. I really wonder. I just feel that our political representatives are not listening to the scientists. I have a feeling you would agree!


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