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Protecting people from disaster in Jamaica

June 2011

Every year Jamaica, along with other countries in Caribbean and Latin America, braces itself for the hurricane season. It is an inevitable part of life there and for vulnerable communities it’s a time when they’re at risk of losing their homes, livelihoods and even loved ones. But it doesn’t always have to be this way, and often simple measures can help protect people from the worst of the hurricane season.

Last September, Tropical Storm Nicole hit Jamaica killing 12 people and causing widespread damage across the island. Yet residents in the Somerset community in St Thomas were protected from the hammering rains and strong winds brought on by the storm.

Somerset has experienced severe landslides and flooding for a long time, evidenced by houses that remain covered by silt and debris, leaving only edges of the roofs as a sign that householders once lived there. Crops, roads and infrastructure are also damaged when this happens.

However, now that four check dams (small barriers built across shallow rivers and streams, which catch water during heavy rains or floods) have been built, residents living on hillside areas fared well in spite of the torrential rains last year.

The construction of all four check dams was managed by our partner the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC), with funds from Christian Aid and support from the EU.

Community volunteers helped to build the check dams which were constructed in the crevices of the mountain to prevent debris from coming down and causing landslides. Three of the dams were completed in 2009 and the fourth one was finished just a few weeks before storm Nicole struck.

Joscelyn Brown is a married father of two children. He has lived in Somerset for several years and expressed gratitude for the check dams, saying that they have made a big difference to his community.

Last year when Nicole struck, residents only had to grapple with downed trees and power lines.
‘Recently we had rainfalls and the check dams have protected families and their homes. This is evident where land slippages and flooding use to take place no longer happen,’ said Brown.

In addition to the check dams, WROC has given the community support to build a nursery, provided livestock, cash crops and helped them get funding for a reforestation project. This involves planting fruit trees which will increase soil density thereby reducing the likelihood of landslides in future.

It’s simple steps like these that will continue to help save lives.

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