Unfortunately, last week’s rains, which caused flooding across Jamaica, are unlikely to have met the parametric criteria to trigger pay-out under the island’s US$185-million catastrophe bond or any insurance it has with the regional catastrophe insurance outfit, CCRIF.
So the finance minister, Nigel Clarke, will have to dive into the estimated J$7.9-billion contingency fund to finance some of the immediate repair to damaged infrastructure. With global warming and climate change, weather events such as last week’s are increasingly the norm, even if more frequent and less predictable.
What countries like Jamaica have to do, while being part of global efforts to slow down and reverse the heating of the planet, is, insofar as possible, protect themselves against the exigencies of the climate crisis, including hardening their infrastructure. It is against that backdrop that this newspaper hopes Jamaica is accelerating its efforts to tap into the US$764-million resilience and sustainability fund (RSF), which the IMF approved for the island earlier this year, as well as other associated facilities available under a joint scheme with the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Inter-American Development Bank(IDB), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the UK government.
Kingston should also become an active proponent of Mia Mottley’s Bridgetown Agenda for reform of the global financial architecture, about which Jamaica has been relatively muted, notwithstanding that Ms Mottley’s efforts has been instrumental in moving the needle forward on several of the initiatives from which Jamaica has benefited – and could benefit in the future. Indeed, roots of programmes such as the IMF’s RSF schemes that would stop the clock on some debt payments by poor countries, should they be impacted by a major climate or other disasters, can be found in Ms Mottley’s activism.
The Government has not yet totted up the bill for last week’s floods, which washed away roads, drains, and bridges and caused landslides. People’s homes were also damaged. Repairs will cost hundreds and millions of dollars. The event is also likely to spike food inflation because of the loss of crops and other damage to agriculture.
There are also not-easily-quantifiable costs to the economy in lost man-hours and production because of the incapacity of the infrastructure to cope with the floods. Several roads, including major thoroughfares, became gushing rivers in which vehicles stalled, stranding commuters. Businesses and schools were forced to shutter.
In several cases, it was not the first time that there were these occurrences. The inundation along Marcus Garvey Drive, an important highway into and out of downtown Kingston to parishes in the southwest and north of the island, recurs almost every time there is a significant downpour. That road’s redevelopment and widening, less than a decade ago, was completed without the requisite upgrading of the drainage system in that quadrant of the city, apparently because there was no money.
The Government has indicated that it does not intend to make the same mistake in Montego Bay, in the island’s northwest, where a new highway bypassing the city is being built.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness disclosed recently that in addition to the drainage directly related to the US$274-million perimeter road, a major study is being done to inform the development of infrastructure to prevent the kinds of flooding that have affected the city in recent years.
It is not clear whether the Montego Bay assessment falls within the wider plan with the multilateral agencies to enhance Jamaica’s climate resilience, including public-private sector partnerships to undertake projects, as was noted by Finance Minister Clarke last month when he touted the arrangement with the GFC, the IDB, and the EIB.
But knowing what is required and getting them done are different things. Jamaica knows as well what is to be done as is its propensity for attempting to reinvent the wheel. Which is why we urge Dr Clarke to be watchful of the scope of new studies and analyses for Jamaica’s climate-resilience agenda, which can dribble away hefty chunks of financing before the first shovel of sod is turned on any project. Mostly, these monies return to the capitals from which they come in paying consultants and other fees.
In 2017, in the aftermath of another flood, Prime Minister Holness said that there was a drainage master plan for Jamaica, which, apparently, was just awaiting financing. That plan, if it existed, would possibly require a bit of updating – not starting from scratch. And it should integrate with the Government’s spatial development policy, which should soon be formally promulgated.
But everything need not be in place for things to start – especially if there are resources available with which to jump-start critical projects.