Manag­ing com­mu­nity risk

Jamaica Gleaner - - @ISSUE -

THERE RES­I­DENTS of a Manch­ester com­mu­nity took last week’s hur­ri­cane warn­ings se­ri­ously and as­sessed their risk. Peo­ple in Mile Gully con­cluded that the great­est dan­ger their com­mu­nity faced was enor­mous dis­rup­tion and in­con­ve­nience to res­i­dents if sev­eral ma­ture trees were up­rooted by hur­ri­cane­force winds and blocked their roads. They de­cided to take a chain­saw to some of these trees.

It was a gut re­ac­tion based on past ex­pe­ri­ence of wind im­pact that top­pled trees. All pre­dic­tions said Hur­ri­cane Matthew was a huge storm tak­ing aim at Ja­maica, and the peo­ple, aware of the da­m­age that can re­sult from up­rooted trees block­ing roads and per­haps haul­ing down power lines, came to­gether and did what they thought was best. Should mem­bers of this for­mer free vil­lage formed af­ter Eman­ci­pa­tion be com­mended or con­demned?

Cer­tainly, not ev­ery­one is ap­plaud­ing that com­mu­nity de­ci­sion for tak­ing down those trees. How­ever well-in­ten­tioned, their ac­tion also wiped away many of the ben­e­fits pro­vided by trees. The Forestry De­part­ment de­liv­ered a public re­buke to the cit­i­zens of Mile Gully for breach­ing the forestry reg­u­la­tions and warned that cit­i­zens can­not sim­ply cut down trees in pro­tected ar­eas.


Sev­eral fac­tors come into play when such a de­ci­sion is to be made. The typ­i­cal vil­lager may not be in a po­si­tion to make the proper as­sess­ment of wood den­sity and flex­i­bil­ity, as well as crown den­sity, tree age and trunk di­am­e­ter. The de­part­ment is charged with the preser­va­tion of our forests and the pro­tec­tion of for­est-man­age­ment ar­eas and for­est re­serves. One of the de­part­ment’s man­dates is to main­tain the is­land’s for­est cover at not less than 30 per cent.

Cur­rently, less than half of the is­land is cov­ered by for­est and wood­lands. Ad­di­tion­ally, var­i­ous hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties, such as farm­ing, res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion and log­ging have cre­ated un­ac­cept­ably high lev­els of soil ero­sion and degra­da­tion of our wa­ter­shed.

Forests and trees pro­tect us, and not enough Ja­maicans ap­pre­ci­ate this fact. How many peo­ple were even aware that yes­ter­day was ob­served as Na­tional Tree-Plant­ing Day? There was a time when trees were planted to cel­e­brate spe­cial oc­ca­sions, but not so anymore. Trees were sup­pos­edly dis­trib­uted last month by the Forestry De­part­ment. Yet the day passed rel­a­tively un­no­ticed. And be­fore that, In­ter­na­tional Day of Forests was com­mem­o­rated in March un­der the theme ‘Forests and Water’. That also did not cre­ate many rip­ples.


We drew at­ten­tion to these two events to demon­strate a com­mon lack of in­ter­est in en­vi­ron­men­tal mat­ters. Ev­ery­one needs to un­der­stand that trees are vi­tal to ev­ery as­pect of our lives. A re­duc­tion in for­est cover will grad­u­ally re­duce rain­fall, rivers will dry up, and when­ever there is ex­treme weather sys­tem like a hur­ri­cane, land slip­page and flood­ing are guar­an­teed.

The ex­am­ple of Haiti is a stark re­minder of how soil ero­sion and de­for­esta­tion can rav­age a coun­try and leave it vul­ner­a­ble to dis­as­ters such as hur­ri­canes. But it was not al­ways like that, for up to 1940, about 30 per cent of Haiti was cov­ered by for­est. This dropped to 10 per cent by 1970, with cur­rent es­ti­mates now at be­tween 1.4 and 2.0 per cent.

The United Na­tions es­ti­mates that de­for­esta­tion ac­counts for as much as 20 per cent of the global green­house gas emis­sions that con­trib­ute to global warm­ing. It is a prob­lem for Ja­maica, and one that may get worse in the ab­sence of co­her­ent and com­mit­ted lead­er­ship to com­bat the ef­fects of cli­mate change.

Let us re­solve to start plant­ing to keep Ja­maica green for gen­er­a­tions to come.

The opin­ions on this page, ex­cept for the above, do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of The Gleaner. To re­spond to a Gleaner ed­i­to­rial, email us: ed­i­tor@glean­ or fax: 922-6223. Re­sponses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all re­sponses will be pub­lished.

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