PART 2 Our Natural Resources: Where are we now?
Natural resources have always played an important role in economic development. Though
attention has been paid to the role of non-renewable resources (minerals and fossil
fuels), Jamaicans are now recognizing the wider contribution of the natural environment.
This includes the role of non-renewable resources, such as minerals; the use of renewable
resources, including forests, soils, rivers and the sea; and the use of lands and waters
for waste disposal. Also included are the essential life support functions of
ecosystems, a wide range of valuable biological resources, and recreational opportunities
for both Jamaicans and visitors. Therefore, development planning must involve
comprehensive knowledge of our natural resource base, the functioning of the natural
systems, and the social, cultural, and economic factors which influence the use of these
resources. The sectors/resource areas highlighted below are selected because of their
importance to Jamaica's development.
There is a clear relationship between population and the environment. As jobs become
scarcer, people turn to the natural resource base for their livelihood. The more people
there are, the less land there is to support their needs. This places severe stresses on
the country's land, water, and energy resources. As a result, the environment is less able
to support life and restore itself.
Trends and indicators
- Jamaica's population was 2.5 million at the end of 1994, an increase of approximately
1.0% over the end of 1993. The crude birth rate rose to 23.7 from 23.2 per thousand in
1993 (the lowest since 1989) while the crude death rate declined from 5.6 to 5.4 per
thousand over the year. Migration from Jamaica, which continues to be a significant factor
in the country's population growth, declined from 21,300 persons in 1993 to 18,800 in
1994. Despite these changes, the population is expected to remain below 3 million up to
the year 2020.
- Average population density at the end of 1994 was 228 persons per Km2, up from 210 the
previous year. Distribution across the island is uneven and is becoming more concentrated
in the growth centers of Kingston, Spanish Town, Montego Bay, Mandeville and Ocho Rios.
- Population growth without providing for housing and for water, waste management, roads,
schools and other services, usually results in environmental degradation.
- Limited access to land and other resources continues to lead to squatting and an
unwillingness or inability to conserve environmental resources on the part of those who
- The Jamaican environment is already in a fragile state, and is likely to be stressed
further unless we all work together to manage our use of resources and develop a strategy
for dealing with the growth and distribution of the population.
The gap between housing demand and supply is great. According to the 1987 National
Shelter Strategy Report, to satisfy housing needs, Jamaica needed to build 15,500 new
units and upgrade 9,700 units each year to 1990 to eliminate over crowding, and to build
an average of 4,009 new units and upgrade 2,580 units annually to the year 2006. These
targets are not being met.
A number of actions have been taken to address this problem. The Government has
developed a Land Policy, a draft settlement policy, and a Programme for Re-settlement and
Integrated Development Enterprise (Operation PRIDE).
Trends and Indicators
- There were 5,747 officially recorded housing starts in 1992, an increase of 19.5 % over
1991. Of these, the public sector accounted for 3,169 units and the private sector for
- In 1992, 85 % of Jamaicans lived in single-family detached houses. The rest lived in
parts of houses, semi-detached houses, apartments/townhouses or commercial buildings.
- In 1992, 60.2% of officially recorded housing units were owner-occupied, 12.5% were
rent-free, 25.2% were rented, 0.8% were squatter-occupied, and 1.3% were listed as other.
- The high incidence of rural to urban drift both reflects and results in a lower level of
investments, facilities and amenities in rural areas.
- Rural settlements are small and scattered, reducing the opportunities for social
services to be provided.
- People are less able to buy land and houses because of increases in land prices,
building materials, wages, and transportation, and high interest rates affecting mortgage
- More people are squatting on marginal lands, such as wetlands, steep slopes and gully
banks, and even gullies themselves, which are unsuitable for shelter and cultivation.
The transformation of the Jamaican economy from its dependence on sugar and bananas
began in the 1950s, with the establishment and growth of the bauxite/alumina sector,
manufacturing, and the emergence of tourism. These three sectors still earn the most
foreign exchange for the country. Tourism is the principal earner of foreign exchange,
with eco-tourism a growing marketing approach. Clearly Jamaica's economy depends on its
environment and natural resources.
FIGURE: Sector Contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
Trends and Indicators
- The economy grew marginally in real terms during 1994, increasing by 0.8% over 1993.
- High interest rates and increasing competition from imports impeded growth. Agriculture
remained the fastest growing sector during 1994. Growth was boosted by continued
improvement in domestic crop production.
- The financial services sub-sector has shown dramatic improvement because of
liberalization of the foreign exchange market. This trend is expected to continue.
- The labour force increased by 7,500 persons in 1994, averaging 1,090,500. The 10,100 new
jobs created resulted in a 5.8% decline in unemployment to 15.4%.
- Real per capita GDP at the end of 1994 was J$7,263.
- In 1993, approximately 28.2% of all Jamaicans lived below the poverty line, down from
33.3% in 1989.
- Given the importance of the environment to the tourism industry, its long-term
protection must become a priority.
- Economic trends in overseas markets such as the United States are encouraging, and
signal prospects for growth in Jamaica's trade sectors and the wider economy. This growth
should not be made at the expense of the country's environment.
- The National Industrial Policy provides the framework for action in the productive
sectors. This policy should be complemented by guidelines for environmental protection in
Jamaica's economy has become increasingly dependent on tourism. As an industry, tourism
represents great growth potential since it increases foreign exchange earnings and expands
employment opportunities. While tourism brings visitors to Jamaica in search of natural
beauty and cultural attractions, the dramatic growth of the industry poses special
problems to the nation's environment and culture. Tourism underscores the need for
environmental and economic planning to be harmonized.
Trends and Indicators
- Tourism is the second largest contributor to GDP (13.3%), behind manufacturing (16.8%).
It is also the largest foreign exchange earner in Jamaica. The industry produced J$8.3
billion in goods and services in 1992, and earned J$23.2 million in foreign exchange from
- Direct, indirect, and induced employment in 1992 totalled the equivalent of 217,000
full-time jobs, 23% of the labour force.
- Within the Caribbean, Jamaica ranks second after the Dominican Republic in terms of the
size of the accommodations sector, with 18,500 rooms at the end of 1992.
- Eco-tourism is the fastest growing sector in the tourism industry globally, though its
current contribution to Jamaica's tourism sector is difficult to assess.
- Recreational facilities include 92 public bathing beaches, 13 government-owned
attractions, and a number of privately-owned attractions.
- Many workers migrate to tourist areas in search of jobs. Hotels which provide top
quality accommodation for visitors tend to make little or no provision for workers in the
industry. The result is expanding squatter communities adjacent to major tourist areas.
- The tourist industry makes many demands on the environment, such as pressure on beaches,
the use of precious resources for craft items, use of wetlands for waste disposal, removal
of seagrass beds at swimming beaches and blocking of visual and public access to the
coast. These environmental impacts could reduce Jamaica's sustained attractiveness as a
- There is the growing danger of Jamaica again becoming overly-dependent on one sector. In
addition, recreational facilities and attractions too often are developed for tourism at
the expense of access and affordability by local residents.
Jamaica is rich in historic buildings and monuments, and attracts the attention of
archeologists and historians from all over the world. These sites reflect the various
colonial and native interactions of our history, and are found in all parishes. Heritage
tourism is a relatively new area of interest to Jamaica, and has great potential for
diversifying the tourism product, for revenues, and for supporting restoration of historic
Trends and Indicators
- An estimated 350 registered sites, monuments, and structures exist throughout the
island. The Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), estimates that approximately 7,500
more monuments and structures should be included on the national register.
- Approximately 350 known Arawak sites exist, though most have not been thoroughly
- Spanish Town, a protected heritage district, is also recommended for listing as a World
- Falmouth, Trelawny has an extraordinary concentration of Georgian architecture and has
been designated the first site on the heritage trail.
- Most buildings declared as national monuments are occupied by private owners, who often
find it difficult and costly to maintain them.
- The greatest threats to our national heritage are neglect, lack of funds, and
Jamaica's mineral resources include metallic ores such as bauxite, copper and nickel;
industrial minerals such as limestone, gypsum, silica sand, marble, sand and gravel
deposits; some precious and semi-precious stones such as gold, silver, and platinum.
Traditionally, bauxite/alumina has been Jamaica's most important export mineral, though it
has been subject to major cyclical fluctuations. Gold and silver occur in association with
copper, but not in significant enough amounts to warrant exploitation. Platinum has been
found in alluvium deposits in eastern Jamaica, but no intense surveys have been conducted.
Mineral resources therefore have the potential for greater contribution to economic
development, but require careful environmental assessments.
Energy Use by Sector
Trends and Indicators
- In 1994, there was an upturn in the bauxite/alumina industry, with production of total
bauxite increasing by 2.3% to 11,571,326 tonnes.
- Gypsum production in 1993 was 203,700 tonnes, a 33.8% increase over the 1992 output of
- Crushed limestone production increased from 3.2 million metric tons in 1992 to 3.3
million metric tonnes in 1994. High purity limestone production increased to 52,359 metric
tons in 1994, or by 18.9% over 1993.
- Production of other industrial minerals increased in 1993/94, with silica sand
production reaching 21,313 metric tons in 1993, but declining to 18,300 metric tons in
- The demand for industrial lime is likely to increase as a consequence of environmental
cleanup activities in develop countries.
- For too long, Jamaica has relied on bauxite. The country needs to aggressively market
other minerals for export, providing adequate environmental standards are in place.
- Mineral exploitation generates a number of environmental management Issues. For example,
each ton of alumina produced gives rise to approximately one ton of caustic red mud
residue. In the past, red mud disposal in underlined pits resulted in seepages of the
caustic solution into the groundwater. This is no longer allowed.
- Although considerable information exists on the occurrence of base metals, additional
field work is continuing to estimate the extent of these reserves. Several of the deposits
are in pristine areas.
- Other environmental impacts associated with mining include river bed and beach erosion
due to illegal sand removal, air pollution due to wind-driven dust, loss of aesthetic
value, and tardiness and failure to rehabilitate mined out areas.
In recent years, Jamaica's energy consumption has increased significantly. Energy is
needed for essential services such as power for manufacturing and other industrial
activity, and fuel for transportation and cooking. The use of oil and coal carries with it
a number of environmental problems, such as water and air pollution and contamination of
Trends and Indicators
- 99% of the commercial energy demand is met by imported petroleum and coal.
- During 1994, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo.) supplied 2,340 million kilowatt
hours (kWh) of electricity to 366,721 customers legally connected to its grid. This
represents an increase in total generation of 3.9% over 1993.
- Some Jamaicans are using solar power, the most popular application being solar water
heating systems. About 1,700 such systems were installed in 1992.
- Jamaica's indigenous energy resources are limited, with no substitute for imported fuel.
The Government is encouraging small hydro projects as the main focus of alternative energy
- The Government is encouraging solar water systems, and is zero-rating the General
Consumption Tax (GCT) on solar equipment.
- High priority needs to be given to energy conservation because of scarce foreign
exchange, and traditional power generation damages air and water quality.
Jamaica is primarily an agricultural country. The sector (including fisheries, forestry
and pasture) occupies over half of the country's land area (602,674 hectares of the
island's 1,100,784 hectares). Agriculture presently contributes greatly to environmental
degradation. This results from the clearing of unstable slopes for cultivation, slash and
burn methods often causing forest fires, and poor farming and forestry practices leading
to soil erosion and loss of productivity.
Trends and Indicators
- Agriculture continues to be a mainstay of the Jamaican economy, employing 36% of the
- Domestic agriculture increased by 9.9% in 1994. Annual domestic production was at its
highest since 1978.
- In 1993, total exports increased by 10.7% to US$195.1 million. Non-traditional exports
increased by 21.9% to US$31.9 million.
- Earnings from traditional crops moved from US$149.5 million in 1992 to US$163.1 million
in 1993, due largely to an increase in export volumes. Bananas, coconut, and coffee all
moved up by a further 12.1%, 18.7%, and 0.7% respectively. However, sugar cane production
declined by 6.2 %. For 1994, banana and coconut increased by 2.4% and 4.0% respectively,
while sugar cane and coffee declined by 7.9% and 26.2% respectively.
- Many large areas of arable land are under-utilized and negative social attitude towards
working in agriculture persist.
- Inadequate technology, marketing, and transportation hinder growth in this sector.
- Praedial larceny, insecurity of tenure, and lack of credit make it difficult for small
farmers to make an adequate living from agriculture.
- Misuse of agricultural chemical (pesitcides and fertilizers) are contributing to water
2.9 Forest Resources
Jamaica's 300,000 to 500,000 hectares of forests play a critical role in the country's
development. They provide lumber, posts, yam sticks, fuelwood, charcoal, fruits, medicinal
plants, rope, drinks, and other consumables. They protect watersheds and therefore water
supply, provide habitats for many wildlife species, maintain soil productivity and
environmental integrity. They are critical to Jamaica's scenic beauty. Less than 6%
(77,000 ha.) is relatively undisturbed. The remainder is listed as badly disturbed
(ruinate) secondary forest (169,000 ha.) and plantations (21,000 ha.). Commercial forests
are estimated at 267,000 hectares, (44%/state-owned, 56%/private). In 1994 the Government
drafted a Green Paper on Forestry, and drafted a bill to update the Forestry Act.
Trends and Indicators
- Forest industries in Jamaica consist of about 180 sawmills, four treatment plants, three
moulding/planing plants, one paper mill, numerous furniture workshops, and other craft and
fuel activities, employing 29,000 people.
- Approximately 37% of household energy needs are met by fuelwood and increasingly by
- Local production of softwoods is about 1% of demand (15% prior to Hurricane Gilbert),
while production of hardwoods is about 82% of demand. The effective production of all
lumber is only 20% of total demand, the remainder being met through imports. Demand for
poles, posts, etc. is also largely met through imports.
- Forests are under severe threat due to land clearing for cultivation, fuelwood, and
charcoal production. Forest cover is disappearing at 3.3% per year. No recent forest
resources inventory exists. Monitoring is woefully inadequate.
- The rate of reafforestation must be accelerated.
- The roles of the private sector and NGOs in the forestry industry are not clearly
- The industry will continue to decline unless targets are set, to which relevant agencies
are held accountable.
Jamaica's coastline is 885 kilometers (550 miles) long and is highly irregular, with
diverse ecosystems, including bays, beaches, rocky shores, estuaries, wetlands, cays and
coral reefs. These ecosystems are home to a variety of living creatures, and support
numerous economic activities. Coastal ecosystems also protect land-based communities from
natural disasters. They are a significant base for the island's economy, mainly in
fisheries and tourism. The ocean has an even greater range of ecosystems. Marine
ecosystems also act as stabilizers of global systems. We continue to undervalue the marine
environment and its contribution to national development, although our marine territory is
24 times our land area.
Trends and Indicators
- Although coastal resources augment tourism earnings, tourism-related activities often
have severe environmental impacts, which could reduce Jamaica's ability to sustain its
attraction as a tourist destination.
- The 1994 finfish catch was estimated to be about 4.1 million kilogrammes, a decline from
previous years. In contrast, shellfish catch, especially conch and lobster, has increased
- Commercial fish farming has grown significantly since it began in 1976. By 1990, total
land area devoted to aquaculture was over 810 hectares, producing approximately 3.4
million kg. of fish.
- The physical environment is being altered to provide facilities for tourism and related
uses. As a consequence, beach and coastline erosion is accelerating, aggravated also by
the mining of sea sand.
- Fish catches are being reduced by increasing numbers of fishermen, poor fishing
techniques in which fine mesh nets trap immature fish, and illegal dynamiting and
- Coastal mangroves, wetland areas and seagrass beds which provide breeding, feeding and
nursery grounds for fish and shrimp are being destroyed. Harbours and nearshore water
bodies are becoming more polluted.
Jamaica boasts a rich natural heritage arising from the diverse range of ecosystems
created by the country's varied topography, geology, and drainage. These ecosystems
include wet and dry forests, rivers, caves, mineral springs, sandy beaches, rocky shores,
herbaceous swamps, mangrove swamps, swamp forests, and salinas. This has resulted in an
unusually high level of endemism, (organisms being native to a particular location),
placing Jamaica fifth in islands of the world in terms of endemic plant species. This rich
natural heritage also creates a scenic beauty which both visitors and locals seek out and
enjoy. Natural ecosystems and biological resources contribute to national development
through economic inputs (local sales and export of plants, animals, skins, and shells),
consumables (fish, meat, etc.), living resources (forest resources, fisheries, etc.),
reducing the threat from natural hazards, and maintaining natural processes which support
Trends and Indicators
- Some plants and animals have been over-exploited, hence the need for closed seasons or
total protection. These species include lobsters, conch, orchids, manatees, Jamaican
Parrots, crocodiles, turtles, the Jamaican Iguana, the Yellow Snake, Queen Conch, corals,
Mustached Bats and a large number of birds.
- Wildlife is under serious threat from deforestation, pollution, improperly planned
developments, misuse, overuse and illegal export.
- Estimates of the rate and extent of destruction of habitats vary, and the basic
information is incomplete.
- Degradation of biological resources continues because of inadequate policies and
legislation, low level of collaboration in international conventions, and the absence of
- Prospecting is increasing for biological resources, with potential medicinal/economic
value, but this needs sustainable management.
Jamaica's freshwater resources come from surface sources (rivers and streams),
underground sources (wells and springs), and rainwater harvesting (community catchments).
Reliable safe yields are estimated at 4,084 million cubic metres per year, with ground
water accounting for 81%. Approximately 96% of all available groundwater is associated
with limestone aquifers, and the remaining 4% with alluvium aquifers.
FIGURE: Pie Chart - Demand for Water
Trends and Indicators
- Estimated production of water during 1992/93 was 283,366 million litres. Production went
up by 7.2% in Kingston and St. Andrew and 3.8% in other parishes.
- Approximately 60% of the water produced is unaccounted for by NWC, that is, lost through
illegal connections, leaks, or incorrect billing.
- During 1994 approximately 86% of the population had access to NWC treated water, 9.5%
received untreated water, while 4.5% were not served.
- The national average for sewage generation is estimated at 455 million litres/day. Of
this, about 25% is collected and treated in conventional treatment systems and the
remainder is disposed of using pit latrines, soak-aways, and septic tanks. About 51% of
the Jamaican population still use pit latrines.
- Deforestation and poor construction practices in the watersheds have changed the flows
of rivers, and accelerated soil erosion, causing siltation of reservoirs and damage to
water treatment works.
- Collecting, treating and distributing water on a reliable basis to the widely dispersed
population results in high water costs.
- Sewage effluent and industrial waste are contaminating aquifers at an increasing rate.
- Research is needed on effective alternative forms of sanitation.
Air quality has been affected by increased emissions from industrial sources, vehicular
traffic, and open burning of household and commercial wastes . The major industries
contributing to air emissions include oil refining, bauxite-alumina processing, mining and
quarrying, cement manufacturing , sugar processing and power plants. Ground water becomes
polluted by infiltration from sewage, saline intrusion and the leakage of caustic residues
from red mud disposal sites. In Kingston and St. Andrew, aquifers have been extensively
contaminated by sewage, while saline intrusion on the south coast results primarily from
over-abstraction of ground water. Pollution of surface waters is much more significant,
with many more pollutants contributing to the problem.
Trends and Indicators
- Mean Total Suspended Particulates (TSP) are below the World Health Organisation (WHO)
air quality standard of 60 microgram per cubic meter, ranging from 1 microgram per cubic
meter at Frome, Westmoreland to 260 micrograms per cubic meter in Montego Bay.
- The mean concentration of lead in Kingston and Montego Bay is 0.5-1 microgram per cubic
meter, the limit set by the WHO; indicating that in many parts of each city the
concentration is higher.
- Air pollution in Kingston continues to create major health problems with the local
- Interior and coastal waters are being adversely affected by the discharge of sewage,
industrial effluents, solid wastes, and agricultural runoff.
- Jamaica lacks routine air quality, heavy metal and hazardous material monitoring
- Present emission standards are not related to ambient air quality, nor are they specific
to regions or industries.
- There is inadequate regulation and control of pollution from motor vehicles and other
Solid, liquid, and hazardous wastes pose serious environmental problems and risks,
including increasing pollution of groundwater, rivers, the marine environment, and the
atmosphere. They create unsightly areas, breeding of pests, and other noxious conditions.
Human health may be threatened directly through poisoning, respiratory problems, and
even birth defects.
Trends and Indicators
- Jamaica generates over 10,000 metric tonnes of solid waste per week.
- 80% of household solid waste which is collected is collected by five Parks and Markets
Companies. The remaining 20% is collected privately and often dumped in open areas.
- Final disposal consists of open dumping and burning. The 26 officially recognized
disposal sites are all impacting negatively on the soil and air in the immediate vicinity
and areas farther away. Water pollution is also possible.
- Jamaica imports an estimated 298,700 metric tonnes of hazardous chemicals, mainly for
the agricultural and industrial processing sectors.
- Lack of a comprehensive waste management policy and clear responsibilities delays
implementation of appropriate waste management.
- The physical characteristics of areas receive insufficient attention when planning for
disposal sites. Site selection criteria already developed are not rigidly enforced.
- There is no national hazardous waste facility, resulting in such waste often ending up
at dump sites with other solid waste materials.
- The Ministry of Local Government and Works is now executing a Solid Waste Management
Project which will address these problems.
2.15 Natural Disasters and
Jamaica is susceptible to natural hazards, due to its physiography, geological history,
and geographical location. These include earthquakes, hurricanes, tropical storms,
flooding, and landslides, which usually result in loss and damage to human life, crops,
ecosystems, and property. Some hazards are man-made; including oil and chemical spills,
and fires. While natural disasters cannot be controlled, man's use of the environment can
reduce or increase the level of impact experienced. As such, land-use planning must
incorporate accurate information on areas of high risk, and activities and management
practices in these areas have to be carefully designed and implemented.
Trends and Indicators
- The major fault systems in Jamaica active since the last 10 million years are the
Duanvale, Spur Tree, Rio Minho-Crawle River, South Coast, Wagwater, Jacks Hill, and Blue
Mountain-Plantain Garden fault systems.
- Earthquakes of Modified Mercalli (MM) intensity VI and over are the most damaging.
Intensity VII earthquakes are expected in Kingston on average every 38 years. The latest,
on January 13, 1993, was of magnitude VII and resulted in extensive damage.
- The rate of damaging earthquakes ranges from more than 20 per century in Kingston &
St. Andrew to less than 5 per century on the western end of the island.
- There is a 27% probability of a hurricane affecting Jamaica in any given year. Hurricane
frequency is not uniformly distributed. Jamaica was impacted by nine hurricanes during
each of the decades 1910-1919 and 1930-1939.
- Direct damage from Hurricane Gilbert stood at US$956 million. Roughly 50% of beaches
were seriously eroded, 60% of mangrove trees were lost, 50% of the oyster resources were
unsalvageable, marine water quality deteriorated, and landslides were widespread.
- Seasonal rainfall also result in flooding and landslides. The 1991 and 1993 events
established respective records in flood levels and duration/intensity.
- Expanding urbanization of reclaimed land in the narrow coastal fringe and on steep
slopes increases risks from natural disasters and requires large-scale hazard mapping and
improved site selection.
- Excessive soil loss raises the levels of stream beds, contributing to flooding.
- Natural and man-made disasters have indirect damages and costs, though they are not
- Conserve water by fixing leaking pipes, using low volume shower fixtures and low flush
- If you are not connected to a sewer system, use new technology such as dry toilet to
- Sinkholes are often used to dump garbage. Keep them clean.
- Help reduce air pollution by not buying products with unnecessary packaging. Reuse
things whenever possible, and recycle glass bottles and newspaper.
- Start a compost pile in your yard. Most of our garbage is organic, meaning that it can
easily be composted and returned to yards, gardens and fields.
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