DRR Champion for Caribbean Presentation

Presented at ACP House Brussels Belgium February 2015 Ivy Gordon Delegate Jeffrey Town Farmers Association

I want to share with you some real life stories that have occurred in Jamaica, and by talking about some of the things we have done in our community you will see that capacity or the lack of it relates directly to vulnerability.


This is where my community is

Slide Back ground

about 500metres above sea level, a farming community. Approximately 48% of Jamaica’s population of 2.7 million live in rural areas, where the majority rely directly or indirectly on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods.  Most of this farming takes place on small holdings of five hectares or less located on hillsides and 50% of these slopes are more than 20 degrees; many are in watersheds just as we are.

The features of rural areas have resulted in the people, and the physical assets of the area being extremely vulnerable to natural hazards and climate-related risks; women of course being more vulnerable than men.

To best illustrate my point I want to start with a tale of two moving hillsides as an example of inequality. I had the opportunity to attend a community meeting in a suburban village 3miles from the parish capital town centre. During an extreme rain event in December 2014 there was a land side, the north coast highway was undermined, a road way was washed out along with curve channels and culverts and last but not least some homes were damaged.

SLIDE meeting attendees

Meeting with the community were the Minister of Housing and Works, local councillors, local Member of Parliament, Rural Agricultural Development agency, the national works agency and a team from geology and mining.

The community members were asking the elected representatives and the agencies of the state what they were going to do to rectify the situation. And rightly so.  They find them self in a vulnerable situation, the hillside they live on has become unstable.

The resolution of the meeting was, that the hillside movement would be monitored and a parcel of alternative land was being sought to relocate the few most at risk. There was no mention of community action, self help, harvesting the water from the roof tops to reduce runoff, or even planting trees. The solution was to be found by the state.

Slide- Jeffrey Town hills x2

THESE Hill sides are in Jeffrey Town and yet none of the state agencies have sat down with us as residents to see what is to be done.

You may ask why. Well I’ll tell you; the answer is that in population density we are few. Our voice is not heard and sometimes we feel as if we don’t count, but I’ll tell you about that a little later.

Slide  -projects

We had to take matters into our own hands and with a series of seven small projects totalling 400,000 USD over a period of seven years we were able to reduce our vulnerability to risks associated with an unstable hillside. Please note that state resources were not accessed to carry out these interventions. Here is what we did.

SLIDES: 8-12

  • Contours  starting in 2008 until now
  • Pineapple barriers
  • Gabion Walls two major efforts in Wallingford, preventing the community being cut in half
  • Water harvesting from the roof tops (roof replacements and retrofitting gutters) of the houses on the hill  to catchment tanks and then piping the excess into soak-aways
  • Individual basins
  • Demonstration Plots and of course we planted trees.

Each of these actions was designed to increase the infrastructural capacity and reduce the risk of a potential disaster of more of our hillside coming down as we are not in a position to relocate ourselves. I live close to the top of this hill side with my neighbours, we are still there, vulnerable, but perhaps a little less so because of the action we have undertaken.

We were able to do these things because we had help, help writing our first project proposal and it and each subsequent project contained a training package and we were able to increase the capacity of our group members and the community at large.

Here is our training grid to 2013 (I am in here too, and without this process I couldn’t be sharing our stories with you today)

And in 2014 we completed a further 129 person training days in climate change adaptation practices and value added goods production. And so far in 2015 a further 41 man training day in watershed management. You can see that we have invested heavily in ourselves over the years recognizing that a change in behaviour often takes time and increased capacity is the key to coping.


SLIDE 14 storms

The compendium tells you that the Caribbean is Hurricane Alley, this is true, and in fact it is fair to say that in the last decade we have suffered an adverse event just about every year. Either too much water or too little. It is relentless the worry and then the actuality. 8/10 if it were your school book it would be acceptable, but in facing hazards it is daunting.

Most recently, September 2014 the Climate Branch of the Meteorological Service reported the parish of St. Mary had experienced three periods of normal drought, and one period each of severe drought (21-40% rainfall) and one extreme drought (less than 20% rainfall). Previously in August the national newspaper the Gleaner reported the agricultural sector in Jamaica had lost nearly USD$8.5m as a result of a prolonged drought.

2010, Tropical Storm Nicole  destroyed bananas, plantains, fruit trees, and triggered landslides and led to the loss of electricity for one week in our community, where as hurricane Ivan 2004 was so much worse, we felt as if we had been forgotten.

At that time six weeks post hurricane ours was the last community in Jamaica to get back mains electricity and the services that follow. Homes were flooded, roofs were lost and there was a major land slide, our farmers lost their crops and the relief when it came was shared in a partisan manner.

Contrast that with the post storm impacts of hurricane Sandy in 2012, our shelters were prepared with trained shelter managers installed,  we were our own first responders, we did our own damage assessment and submitted reports to the local authorities, our farmers had diversified their crops to an extent, we reaped and processed all of our breadfruit crop, either as flour or roasted, vacuum packed and frozen; we were without electricity for the passage of the storm only because we had our hub at the farmers building using alternative energy, no stocks of frozen chicken were lost, we were able to keep in contact by phone and using the community radio.

SLIDE disaster training

This was possible because the national agency, the office of disaster preparedness and emergency management was carrying out policy to improve capacity; they supported the training of a community wide disaster preparedness committee, allowed the writing of our disaster plan and implemented annual community drills

SLIDE certification of disaster training

Six other communities in St. Mary also had disaster teams trained, so a total of seven communities from the registered 47, just short of fifteen percent in the parish that has the most reported land slippages in the island.  It is not enough.

All of the community committees are still active to a degree but report the same problems, lack of resources for the teams and where resources are available lack of a secure place for storage. It should be noted that in impoverished communities relief supplies are extremely useful at anytime hence the critical need for safe storage. Our government can also help our committee and others by accepting their reports as honest non partisan descriptions of the facts. Too often the neediest are overlooked because of political persuasions.

There must also be real support for these types of processes, I can testify to the difference it made to our community, this is something to be replicated, everyone needs to be engaged, it will be costly, but losing everything is both gut wrenching and frightening; in my view  it is better to invest in risk reduction than disaster recovery.

My last story is more of an observation, capacity building is for everyone and for the farmers we have used Demonstration plots as an integral part of the tools to show best practices, here I note that the recommended land husbandry measures are labour intensive and individual farmers although willing to diversify the crops they grow and to plant pineapples as barriers, are less willing to construct individual basins for trees and the required 600 meters of drainage ditches per acre.

It is simple, these actions don’t lead to income and marginalised people have to use their energy for food or income generation. We have decided that any future supported intervention will be in the form of top soil conservation practices rather than planting materials and inputs, we feel the long term benefits will be better for each farmer if aid is in the form of permanent structures.

I also observed during the second half of 2014 the Chickengunya Virus was rampant in the region and across the whole country and there was no apparent means of containment or treatment. Our government spent time telling us that we didn’t have confirmed cases of the virus, but once it was sufficiently proven that we did the public awareness campaign began, after the fact. We demand better, just as the community of Grants Town ask what will the state do, I ask it now, what will you do to reduce our risk to another pervasive and debilitating outbreak? Just suppose it was something more sinister?

Slide Query?

In closing I say that it is hoped that access to the new adaptation fund and the green climate fund will not preclude groups like ours or be wrapped up in so much institutional red tape that community grant applicants cannot be their own project managers, the disappointing position we find ourselves in now.

However the principals of this group will continue to seek funds so that they can fulfil the mandate to use a hands on approach to guide and empower similar community groups to take a holistic look at the hazards they may face and begin the replication of best practices to increase their capacity to cope.

Jeffrey Town is called a model community because of the collective effort; we have shown that with clear communication and common goals people in rural communities can affect meaningful sustainable change that increases self reliance while reducing risk to disaster impacts exacerbated by climate change.  I can’t give you a scientific measurement of the change in overall capacity in Jeffrey Town but I would offer a guess and say that we are at least level with the 6.37 average noted for Jamaica and perhaps marginally better.

Slide: Final

We need you to do the right thing for all of us: the solution must be a process. It is up to you to ensure the policy is comprehensive.

That the agencies you engage to act out the policy  are given measureable targets, are held accountable and work without bias; Demand transparency and value for money and remember hazards don’t ask who you vote for or even where you live.

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