Small island states such as Jamaica in the Caribbean, are most affected by shifting climate patterns. UN-Habitat programs tackles the challenges.

Montego Bay, Jamaica, March 2020 - Every year the residents of the informal settlements in Jamaica’s coastal cities brace themselves for the hurricane season. In November 2017 most of those living in North Gully, an informal settlement on the hillside near the centre of Montego Bay, had to be evacuated, especially those residing in the lower areas of the community. Heavy rains, water levels of over 3.5 metres, and floods washed away the houses and small businesses of the poor. They also flooded large parts of the city centre. The city's beaches were also polluted as the hurricane deposited large amounts of garbage that had been dumped by the inhabitants of North Gully into the gully that cuts across the settlement. With the water levels reached up to 3.6 metres, residents lost all their property and the local economy ground to a halt for several weeks.

In the last few years, scientists have observed that the hurricane season in the Caribbean from June to November is becoming more destructive. This change has been attributed to global warming. This is bad news for North Gully which has narrow, almost inaccessible footpaths, limited waste management and little security. The homes are often unstable, mostly built of wooden boards on the steep slope.

Houses perched on the hill in North Gully, Montego Bay, Jamaica.
North Gully in Montego Bay is the largest Informal settlement in Montego Bay, and the community's homes are perched on the hill.The community's homes perch on the hill.
[UN-Habitat / Kirsten Milhahn]

UN-Habitat’s Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP) is tackling the challenging situation on the ground through it’s programme called ‘Pro-poor Planning of Climate Resilience in Marginalized Neighborhoods’. PSUP conducted a situation analysis of informal settlements in Jamaica based on urban profiling. It also delivered a policy and regulatory framework review and a prevention strategy for Montego Bay. North Gully’s community served as a pilot where detailed mapping of the entire area was carried out to identify the drivers of risk and to support the local authorities to developing plans to reduce these.

“With the advocacy work that we are doing through the development of the Caribbean Strategy for Informal Settlements Upgrading, we want this issue to be prioritized by governments in the entire Caribbean region,” says Emrah Engindeniz, PSUP’s Regional Programme Advisor.

The local authorities are calling for immediate action before the next big hurricane. "If we do not act, the lowest areas of North Gully will collapse,” says Richard Vernon, Councillor of the Montego Bay South Division of Parish Council. Much work remains including constructing a network of stairs to make the area more accessible, developing a proper waste management system to prevent garbage clogging up the gully, building solid homes and ensuring tenure security for the residents. Vernon believes that secure housing and living conditions and, above all, creating incentives and jobs for the young will help to improve the area.

While natural disasters can not be prevented, community improvements can significantly reduce their impact. “Preventing flooding is very possible when we have the right climate resilient infrastructure in place," says PSUP expert Emrah Engindeniz. “People who live in upgraded neighbourhoods have more opportunities at hand to adapt to changing climatic conditions and can better protect themselves from its increasing effects.”

Community members in North Gully, Jamaica.
Mrs. Roneth Green, witnessed the last disastrous flood in Nroth Gully in 2017, where many families had to be evacuated, including her house and family. Here she is with her grandchild.
[UN-Habitat / Kirsten Milhahn]