Academic’s work aims to make Caribbean more resilient to natural disaster.

Posted on 29th August 2018

A University of Chester academic has been working with key decision makers in the Caribbean to advise them on how to become more resilient to natural disasters in their region.

Destruction of buildings at Caribbean Terrace, St Andrew, as a result of storm surges associated with recent hurricanes.
Destruction of buildings at Caribbean Terrace, St Andrew, as a result of storm surges associated with recent hurricanes.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), since 1950, the Caribbean has been hit by 324 natural disasters. The World Bank has described the Caribbean region as comprising ‘fragile states’ most at risk of disasters, having the potential to destroy progress made in development over the last 30 years.

Dr Servel Miller is the Natural Hazard Management Programme Leader at the University. He has been working with community planners, policy makers, experts, and local community groups in the Caribbean to help make their communities more hazard-resilient, through better resilience planning.

He began his excursion to the region with a conference he organised in Kingston, funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund, which assessed the contributing factors leading to the risk of natural disaster in the Caribbean. The conference included a keynote speech from Jamaica’s Commissioner of Mines, Leighton Williams.

Following the conference, Dr Miller then remained in the area, visiting local communities, helping to educate community leaders and children on the risks and actions that can be taken to protect themselves in the event of a natural disaster.

He attended St Benedict School, in Bull Bay, St Andrew, where he carried out an art workshop and simulation exercises for the children, to help increase their awareness of what to do.

Dr Miller said: “A significant number of the children are from the nearby Caribbean Terrace community, in East Kingston, that is under constant threat from storm surges and hurricanes. Houses in and around Caribbean Terrace have been severely devastated from repeat storm surge action and it was heart wrenching to see a collapsed building still being occupied by some of the most vulnerable sections of society (the elderly, children, homeless people, and people with mental health problems). Within this community, the impact of rising sea-levels, climate change and increased hurricane intensity and frequency is highly evident. When the impact of climate change is combined with social and physical vulnerability, the devastating outcomes are noticeably evident at this location.”

Dr Miller also visited the Judgement Cliff community in Jamaica, an area about which he has done extensive research in the past. The area got its name when, in 1492, a landslide tragically buried a community and its residents. There, Dr Miller met with local council officers and councillors to develop a range of hazard resilience measures, including the use of augmented reality to increase awareness and bring more tourists and school expeditions to the area.

Dr Miller said: “Disasters, when they occur, can be a very sad and heart wrenching experience to witness. However, there are some instances where a historical disastrous event can be used to help to transform a community, and the current plan is to do just that with Judgement Cliff. Working with the local Parish Coordinator, Marina Medley, and local councillor, Edwin Mar, we were able to formulate a strategy to develop an Eco and Heritage Tourism package for Judgement Cliff.”

Another outcome of his visit is that Dr Miller has also worked with staff at the Mines and Geology Division to submit a research proposal to the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) around the use of Augmented Reality and community engagement, to increased public accessibility to geological and geohazard data.

Dr Miller added: “This was a highly valuable research and community engagement visit. It demonstrated how geoscience research can contribute to disaster risk reduction and empower and transform communities at risk. It is my intention to continue to work with decision makers and communities in the Caribbean to find creative strategies to better manage and reduce the risk faced from natural disasters.”