Kingston, September 13, 2022
On completing a rapid ecological assessment of three of Jamaica’s major water management units (WMUs), researchers at the UWI have confirmed that the endemic closed broadleaf forests that protect and sustain these significant natural resources have been significantly disturbed. This has been having an impact on the amount of clean water being discharged in the rivers and streams.
The report was presented by scientists from the Department of Life Sciences UWI, as a part of the first phase of the environmental project, “A Jamaican Path from Hills to Ocean” geared at improving the country’s resilience to the impact of climate change and also to reduce poverty by protecting livelihoods. The research follows a recommendation of the 2018–2021 Medium Term Socio Economic Policy Framework, that 26 WMUs should be assessed with oversight from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). The three watersheds that were assessed—Wag Water, the Rio Nuevo and the Rio Bueno/White River—are adjacent to each other and cover 17.0 per cent of Jamaica.
Coordinated by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) and jointly funded by the European Union Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+) in the amount of €4.9 million ($859 506 060), and the Government of Jamaica of €1.1 million ($192 950 340), the project started in 2020 and will run until 2025.
In their assessments of these WMUs, Drs Denneko Luke and Eric Garraway were hopeful about the possibility of regenerating the watersheds and expressed appreciation for the amount of baseline data that has been collected through support of the project. Local environmentalists can now use the data and improve the opportunities to have successful outcomes to sustainable interventions.
The project is undertaking four missions: restore the watershed systems of the Wag Water River, the Rio Nuevo and the Rio Bueno/White River; restore the wetland systems of Falmouth, and the Mason River Protected Area; restore the seagrass beds in the Ocho Rios Marine Park Protected Area; and put in place sustainable coastal management interventions in the Hellshire Bay/Half Moon Bay of the Portland Bight Protected Area. The work will involve engaging communities in the WMUs to adopt integrated and sustainable landscape management programmes and also sustainable coastal management programmes.
Speaking at the official launch, Minister Without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Senator Matthew Samuda, noted that the project will have an impact on about 46.0 per cent of the population and help the government to meet its national environmental and climate change targets, as monitored by Vision 2030 Jamaica. Minister Samuda said that the targets include protecting 30.0 per cent of land resources and also the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that includes the maritime resources of Jamaica. Minister Samuda also stated that, “The process will not be painless, because any dislocation to the most vulnerable in society causes difficulties,” as he urged the project’s partners, NEPA and three divisions in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries: Parks and Gardens, Fisheries, and the Rural Agriculture Development Agency to meet the stated goals.
Also addressing participants, Deputy Director General, International Partnerships, European Commission, Ms Myriam Ferran said that climate change has high priority within the European Union and that the project is a part of the EU’s global gateway strategy to cooperate with partners to lead sustainable connectivity and activities. She said, “We are extremely grateful for the excellent cooperation we have had with all the agencies involved and the coordination of the PIOJ and we are extremely hopeful of seeing concrete results.”
Director of Planning and Projects at NEPA, Mr Ainsworth Carroll, welcomed the project and the data from the ecological research that was done, noting that this will help to inform the integrated water resources management and help to build the overall resilience of Jamaica. He said that land use practices that are within the focus of the project have long been the subject of previous interventions. Among the citizen groups whose partnership will be critical to the success of the Hills to Ocean programme are farmers, fisher folk, entrepreneurs, environmental groups, women and youth. The outcomes will include their adoption of at least one new climate resilient land management practice.
Agencies of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will interface with the communities under the programme and feedback shows that communities not only have a high degree of awareness of climate change and the land management issues that face them; they are also ready to put forward solutions to their experiences of reduced fish harvests, reduced clean water and also soil loss. The Ministry’s Chief Technical Director Mr Courtney Cole said of the project, “It can help the communities that are working with the agencies to achieve sustainable management and use of natural resources as well as hazard risk reduction and adaptation to climate change.”