PM announces climate resilience plan as NCB launches $300-million disaster relief fund

PM announces climate resilience plan as NCB launches $300-million disaster relief fund

WITH Jamaica being hit by “some form of natural disaster” almost every two years over the last eight years, Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the Government intends to “mainstream climate resilience” in the budgeting process to ensure that the country is not forced to borrow when disasters hit, as it has done in the past.

“We are mainstreaming climate resilience in our budgeting process by building buffers and reserves and by literally budgeting for storms so that when climate events happen we are not forced into a position to borrow. We may borrow, but we are not forced into borrowing. What happened before was that every climate event pushed us into more borrowing, so a part of our debt trap was as a result of having to borrow to recover from climate events. So, we are trying to avoid going down that trajectory,” Holness said on Monday during the official launch of National Commercial Bank (NCB) Jamaica Limited’s Building a Better Jamaica Foundation at Jamaica House in St Andrew.

The foundation’s first initiative is disaster relief aid being mobilised to help Jamaicans devastated by Hurricane Beryl.

According to Holness, Hurricane Beryl — which swooped down on the island last Wednesday and travelled along the south coast — caused, “a different kind of damage” than that wreaked by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, with which it has been compared.

“The impact of the hurricane — though not a direct hit, a glancing blow — has come at a period of time when we have been experiencing for the last eight years, almost every two years we have been hit by some form of natural disaster… we have had all kinds of tropical storms and depressions… all of these have a fiscal impact. We couldn’t look at Beryl in isolation. For the past eight years or so roads have been flooded out, blocked, scoured; landslides; bridges damaged — and those costs keep piling up. We try to repair but we can’t repair all,” Holness said.

“So, one climate event would not be the total aggregator of the cost of the events to us; it is important and instructive, therefore, that the country understands how the Government is treating with this,” he said.

Noting that Jamaica’s brand attracts global and local philanthropy when crises hit, Holness emphasised that while this helps with the initial response, “the country has to have its economic and financial house in order to carry out the recovery”.

“So, we have a long-term plan and well-laid plan for this. There is a perspective that the recovery should be quick, and there are those with the expectation that the recovery should be the next day, but you can have a quick recovery but not a full recovery. What we want is a sustainable recovery in every dimension of the crisis,” Holness declared.

Said the prime minister: “The dimension of the crisis that we are looking at today is how we manage public, corporate, civic society and philanthropic donations. It is important that the Government creates a space where the corporate philanthropy and civil society philanthropy can be coordinated and organised.”

He insisted that accountability is supreme, saying that the coordinating platform under the initiative which has seen NCB partnering with Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) through a disaster fund website, will be a critical feature going forward.

“This website will serve as our centralised source of information and statistics on the impact of Hurricane Beryl as well as a single source to accept donations,” Holness said.

Individuals locally or overseas, with a Visa or Mastercard, can, by visiting the website, make a donation. Those preferring to donate by bank transfer can use the account numbers on the site to donate directly to ODPEM.

Last Friday NCB had announced the launch of the $300-million disaster relief fund to primarily assist with the restoration of homes and farmers’ crops in more severely damaged parishes such as St Elizabeth, Hanover, and Manchester. The bank, in establishing the fund with an initial pledge of $20 million, said it would solicit corporate and individual contributions. It said all donations received will be matched by NCB, up to a maximum of $150 million.

At Monday’s launch NCB Foundation CEO Sheree Martin said the entity is “now in the process of finalising the terms of reference for how the funding received will be disbursed, accounted for, and reported to the relevant stakeholders and the wider public”.

Chairman of NCB Financial Group Limited Michael Lee-Chin, speaking at the launch, noted the devastation wreaked on some areas by the hurricane, and said “those spared by the divine guiding hand have a responsibility”.

“It is in that vein why NCB on Friday decided to make this contribution. But this contribution, which is equivalent to US$2 million compared to what I said was the cost of other hurricanes in 2023 dollars, is a drop in the bucket, just a catalyst to encourage other corporations, Jamaicans, to do the same and step up,” he said.

Lee-Chin, in his preamble, had noted that Hurricane Gilbert, regarded as the worst-ever to hit Jamaica, “in 2023 dollars” was US$2.5 billion worth of devastation. He said Hurricane Ivan in 2004 penciled out at US$920 million, Hurricane Charlie in 1951 US$650 million, Hurricane Charley in 2004 US$470 million, and Hurricane Dean in 2007 US$428 million.