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Cedric Stephens|Time for a SMART disaster risk management policy

The authorities have drafted a long-term strategy and set of policies to manage disasters that can affect the island. Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie tabled the 113-page Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Policy and Strategy 2020-2040 Green Paper in the House of Representatives last Tuesday. Congratulations are in order. However, why was the start date for the implementation of the policy backdated to 2020 when it is being tabled in 2022? Alternatively, why wasn’t its end date not moved to 2042?

The paper states that, “The rationale for the development and promulgation of a comprehensive disaster risk management (DRM) policy is rooted in the Constitution, which calls for the right of all Jamaicans ‘to enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury…'” It is also said to be based on a recognition that “Jamaica has a high vulnerability to hazards, which result in significant negative impacts on the economy as well as social sectors, physical and social infrastructure, property, including housing stocks, ecosystems and other aspects of the natural environment and importantly, people and their well-being.”

This is a novel argument that I believe most local risk management professionals are unaware of. People and their well-being should have been listed as the first of the negative impacts of disasters, not physical property.

The CDRM policy has identified seven goals which should be accomplished during the two decades:

1. DRM is mainstreamed across all national policies and sectoral planning processes, including integrating disaster risk reduction (DRR) with climate change adaptation.

2. Mortality, economic, social, and environmental losses from disasters are reduced, creating resilient individuals, communities, and enterprises across Jamaica.

3. Jamaica has a modern and adaptive governance, institutional, legal, and regulatory framework for comprehensive disaster risk management that facilitates stakeholder involvement and engagement.

4. Jamaica has in place well-defined systems for risk identification and assessments and can anticipate future events, including new and emerging hazards.

5. Jamaica has a strong, innovative, and modern disaster preparedness system for effective recovery and response capacity.

6. Jamaica’s key industry structures embrace DRR and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) as a means of advancing international competitiveness.

7. Jamaica has in place a well-defined framework for disaster risk financing to safeguard future development prospects.

The goals are vague and unspecific. They are unlike the policy goals that were agreed upon by bureaucrats of the International Monetary Fund and technocrats in the Bank of Jamaica and the Ministry of Finance & the Service under the Extended Fund Facility. The monitoring of performance was conducted by the Economic Policy Oversight Committee. First-year management students know that goals or objectives should meet the SMART Test. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Goals meet these criteria focus efforts and increase the chances of achieving the desired results. The seven CDRM policy goals do not meet these criteria.

The Jamaica Information Service reported Minister McKenzie as telling parliament that the ‘policy is one of the performance requirements of the contingent loan for natural disaster emergencies that was negotiated between Jamaica and the Inter-American Development Bank in 2018. This facility allows Jamaica to access a maximum of US$285 million to develop a project known as the Comprehensive Natural Disaster Risk Management Programme, to alleviate the impact of severe natural disasters on the country’s finances.’ In other words, the CDRM strategy and policy were developed to comply with the terms of a loan agreement and not by objective analyses of the country’s history and geography conducted by the ministry’s staff.

This is a shameful admission. The island’s centuries-long experiences with natural disasters and former Minister of Finance Minister Peter Phillips’ statement 10 years ago that “reducing the effects of natural disaster is critical to the country’s economic well-being based on the significant effects that these events have on its gross domestic product”, should have been among the things that contributed to the development of the policy. The policy should also have been based on Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ June 2018 statement to the outreach session of the G7 Summit that “Building resilience is not optional; it is imperative for our survival.” These are the ideas that should have driven the development of the policy and strategy, not a loan condition imposed by a foreign lending institution.

Minister McKenzie also said that: “Implementation of optimal disaster risk resilience requires substantial financial investments.” His ministry received 2.96 per cent of the 2022/23 budget or $17.9 billion of the $604.5 billion that the government plans to spend. It is unclear what portion of the ministry’s budgetary allocation has been earmarked for the CDRM during the current financial year. The fact that no information on this was presented to Parliament is very worrying. Is CDRM a paper tiger?

I have long felt that responsibility for DRM and the Office of Disaster and Emergency Risk Management should be shifted from the local government ministry to the Ministry of Finance. Technocrats in the latter ministry, with their understanding of the economy, and experience in dealing with institutions like the IMF, would have drafted a more robust policy and strategy and accessed resources to implement the two-decade-long plan.

Even though insurance companies are in the business of financing risks, members of this industry or their umbrella organisation, the Insurance Association of Jamaica, are not mentioned in the plan. Why not? Don’t they have a role to play?

The authors of the CDRM recognise the important contribution that the agricultural sector makes to the economy and the peculiar risks investors in the industry face. However, there is also no reference to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. It remains unclear whether the DRM framework advocated in the green paper is relevant to this industry or whether a dedicated framework for the members of this sector would be more appropriate.

Frankly, I believe that what was presented to parliament last week should be considered a work in progress.

Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice on the management of risks and insurance. If you need free information or counsel to help you solve a problem, write to The Business Editor at or contact Mr Stephens directly at Letters and e-mails will be edited for clarity and length.

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