No magic wand to build back better after COVID-19
THERE IS no magic wand to‘build back better’after the experience of COVID19; what will help is the prioritisation of food and water security, together with improved air quality and attention to education and living conditions for all Jamaicans.
So says Eleanor Jones, a development professional who sits at the helm of the consultancy firm Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL).
“Poor living conditions, including poor housing and inadequate sanitation, leave you exposed to the disease and morbidity, but also to climate impacts,” she told The Gleaner.
“How are you going to do social distancing, for example, if you have many people living together (in cramped quarters), as we have in many households in Jamaica?” Jones added.
Social distancing of up to six feet is among the prescriptions to contain the spread of COVID-19, an infectious respiratory illness that has infected more than eight million people and killed more than 440,000 globally since it emerged last December.
“Food security and water security are key, because we are talking about the sustainable supply of quality food and water, which is fundamental because you need water for everything. How are you going to tell people to wash hands, and so on, if you do not have a sustainable supply of water,” she said.
As for air quality, the ESL boss and member of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica said that its importance goes almost without saying, given early research showing that poor air quality may contribute to less-than-optimal health outcomes for persons infected by COVID-19.
“One of the factors that affect air quality is transportation. Cleaning up air emissions is one way we can tackle this, and we have been talking about this for a very long time,” she noted.
Tackling the air pollution caused by the transportation sector also holds climate-resilience benefits, since carbon dioxide emissions fuel global warming, with results of not only temperature increase, but associated impacts. CLIMATE IMPACTS
These impacts range from extreme weather events, including hurricanes and droughts, to sea level rise and coastal erosion that have implications for livelihood loss in important sectors, such as tourism and fisheries.
“Obviously, we are not going to wave a magic wand (and solve the problems overnight), but we need to put these things into our vision. We have Vision 2030. Now is the time to pull out the goals and the targets that we have and follow that. We are not reinventing anything,” insisted Jones.
Among the four goals of that national development plan is that ‘Jamaica has a healthy natural environment’. The others are:
That Jamaicans are empowered to achieve their fullest potential;
That the Jamaican society is secure, cohesive; and
That Jamaica’s economy is prosperous. Jones has suggested that they all depend on a well-cared-for natural environment.
“We have to focus on how we build resilience, and building resilience is not only about looking at the money. It cannot be just money at any cost,” she said.
“When we say ‘protect your natural assets’, we are not saying don’t develop. But we do need to ensure that people are doing the right things. We need to protect the land that gives us the food security, the water security, the air quality. That means protecting the environment to prevent things (such as) pollution and over extraction,” she added.
As for education, which is critical for any successful attempt at sustainable development, she said COVID-19 has exposed some important vulnerabilities.
“You are missing so much if you do not have an educated population. Yet a large portion of our young people do not have access to a quality education. With COVID-19 (and the requirement for homeschooling), we see that many do not have the equipment and/or the infrastructure, such as the Internet (that they need),” Jones said.
The devastation brought by extreme hurricane events are best avoided by attention to climate- resilience building.
Eleanor Jones (right) is seen here with physicist Dr Tannecia Stephenson.