Saturday, 31 January 2015

Jamaica's Relatively High Road Fatality Rate, And Preventive Measures

Road accidents and road fatalities, these are perennial issues that we encounter. Here in Jamaica, the perception often exists, that traversing our roads maybe unsafe. In other words, the probability of being involved in a serious road accident, or fatal collision is relatively high. If we are to go by last year's (2014) figures, you may see the reason for this perception.

Road accident in Jamaica. Source of image: Jamaica Observer

A breakdown of 2014 statistics can be found the Jamaica Observer article entitled December 2014 deadliest month on Ja's roads in 3 years. Quoting from the aforementioned article "according to the most recent fugures released by the National Road Safety Council (NRCS), the number of fatal crashes and fatalities across the island in 2014 exceeded the number recorded in 2013.The statistics show that from January 1 to December 31 last year there were 299 fatal crashes and 330 fatalities. 

The figures are worrying, seeing that 256 road fatalities were recorded in 2012, this was the lowest in over decade. A quick calculation using the 2014 figure, gives a road fatality rate of approximately 12.2 per 100 000 inhabitants. Data on Wikipedia places the world average at 18 per 100 000 inhabitants, this suggests that the fatality rate in Jamaica is lower than the world average. However, the rate in the developed world is below 10 per 100 000 inhabitants.

Preventive Measures

Research shows that 80 per cent of accidents are caused by human error; namely speeding, drunk driving, non-wearing of seat belts or helmets and improper use of our roads by pedestrians. Individuals often argue that the speed limit our roads are too low. However, anecdotal evidence implies that many Jamaicans ignore them anyway. This is seemingly an unknown danger. 

Using an example, a car travelling at 100km/h has 4 times more energy, as per if a car is travelling at 50km/h. In other words, an individual travelling at twice the speed has an exponential chance of being injured or killed, if involved in a collision. Additionally, knowing that many Jamaicans are non-seat belt users, the likelihood of being in an high speed collision is further compounded. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. I say this to state the purpose of a seat belt, and that is to prevent an individual from being thrown from an automobile, or gradually reduce built up energy of an individual in a moving vehicle. In this regards, I will make a list of possible preventative measures.

Significantly reducing road accidents and fatalities requires a multifaceted approach, including but not limited to:

  1. Public education of individuals, starting from the early childhood level.
  2. Enforcing existing and future road traffic laws.
  3. Build out of adequate sidewalks, this should prevent tragedies such as the one close to University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI).
  4. Improving vehicle safety. 

These are tangible steps that should be implemented in the shortest possible, at least the first three steps. Road accidents are unpreventable, attributable to human error and mechanical failure. However, measures should be implemented to reduce violent and fatal road accidents.

Let's hope for sanity on our roads in 2015.


List of countries by traffic related road death rate, Wikipedia

Causes of collisions, Mayo road safety

256 traffic fatalities in 2012, Jamaica Observer

Monday, 26 January 2015

Jamaica Has Copious Water Resources, But....

Jamaica often has pervasive water issues. Additionally, announcements by the national water commission (NWC) of impending/ongoing water restrictions are not surprising. In fact, the aforementioned step may be seen as prudent, seeing that we are now in our primary dry season. Jamaica's primary dry season generally spans the period, December through April.

Mona dam, St Andrew, Jamaica's largest water storage facility. Source of image: Owensoft

However, despite perennial problems with water supply and distribution, Jamaica is not short of water. This may seem paradoxical, but Jamaica has copious water resources, enough to supply present and future demands. You need not take my word for it. The water resources authority (WRA), in news covered by the Jamaica Observer, entitled We Have Enough Water, suggests that Jamaica uses fewer than 25 per cent of Its annual water reserves. Providing meaning to the term "land of wood and water"

The article went on to state, and I quote "We are only using 22-24 per cent of our available water resources. Roughly 90 per cent of our reserves are tied up in grounwater,". The former figure may be shocking, as many Jamaicans are living without a reliable water supply. In fact, data from the water commission evince that, 30 per cent of Jamaicans receive water from standpipes, water trucks, community catchment tanks, etc.

Additionally, Jamaicans with house connections are not unfamiliar with ad hoc water supply. To give an example, I will quote from a Jamaica Observer article entitled, Manchester Councillors Scold NWC "the parish needs 22 million gallons of water per day, with the capital Mandeville requiring six million gallons. However, on average in 2006, the parish is receiving only eight million gallons of water daily, two million of which goes to Mandeville."

What Can, Or Is Being Implemented To Alleviate Some Of The Problems?

Dripping tap. Source of image: GFjamesplumbing

Leaks may seem innocuous. However, 34 per cent of piped water is lost, attributable to leaks. The declaration was made during a Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) sitting in 2012. The leaks are exacerbated by theft. This was also revealed in the PAAC sitting, approximately 68 per cent of NWC's water is considered non revenue water. In this regards, the K-Factor programme is being implemented to reduce non revenue water, and increase accessibility to reliable water resources.

However, the programme shall not solve all the inefficiencies of the NWC. A major inefficiency, is NWC's energy bill. This is said to be Jamaica Public Service Company's (JPS's) biggest customer, with a monthly bill of approximately J$ 500 million, J$ 6 billion annually. An untenable figure. Plus, the high energy cost limits the amount water that may be pumped economically, especially in mountainous areas such as Mandeville, Manchester. With that said, the NWC should use renewable energy where applicable, so as to significantly lower the cost of pumping water. A long-term solution, such as building a dam should also be considered, Jamaica's last major was built in the 1940s.

Instituting these measures should go a long way to provide, efficient and accessible water to the masses.


National Water Commission to invest billions in water projects under K-Fogramme, Jamaica Observer

Billions down the drain - NWC losses big due to theft, leaks, etc. Jamaica Gleaner

Physical Facilities and Operations, NWC

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Is Jamaica On The Road To Universal Internet Access?

A perennial problem in Jamaica has been the accessibility of internet. The 2011 population and housing census out of the statistical institute of Jamaica (STATIN), highlighted some of the issues. The census suggests that most Jamaicans were without Internet for the period of the census. A breakdown of the figures were available in a Jamaica Gleaner story entitled CENSUS: Majority of homes still without computer, internet access.

Visual representation of the internet. Source of image: LiveScience

The article states that, of the 881 078 households in Jamaica, 163 314 had Internet access at home. A quick calculation suggests that, approximately 18.5% of the population had Internet at home. Though, the census data may be correct, access to an Internet connection is often available at community centers, libraries, Internet cafes and at schools. This that Internet access/usage is not limited to the households

Additionally, with the explosion of mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), many Jamaicans are connecting to the Internet via mobile networks. This was confirmed in a survey done by the planning institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), news came from the medium, Jamaica Gleaner - Internet Subscribers Headed To One-Million Mark.The survey found that there were 920 000 Internet Subscribers in Jamaica, of which 786 680 were mobile broadband subscribers, and 132 537 were fixed broadband subscribers. 989 narrowband (possibly dial-up connection) subscribers were also picked up in the survey.

Alternate data from the world bank, reveals that Internet access was 37.8% in 2013. This was approximately 10% above their 2010 figure, but comparable to the figure in 2011. Data provided by the world bank is available here: Internet Users (Per 100 people).

As stated in my first article The liberalization of Jamaica's telecommunications industry; impact on the Jamaican economy and communications, Internet Subscribers were estimated to be under 80 000 in the year 2000, inferring that there has been a marked increase in Internet Subscribers. However, Jamaica has a long way to go to achieve ubiquitous Internet access.

I shall revisit the topic in future blog posts, where I may go in-depth at what is being done to augment the gains made.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Could The US Help To Solve Jamaica's Energy Woes?

In my last post, the focus was on the implementation of 78 megawatts of renewable energy projects, these projects are aimed at lowering our energy costs by 2016. However, seeing that close to 90% of our energy output is derived from heavy fuel oil (HFO) and automotive diesel oil (ADO), additional steps are needed to significantly lower the cost of electricity in Jamaica.

To understand why, let's look at some figures. Data from the petroleum corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), suggests that Jamaica's oil import bill was approximately US $344 million in 1998. This rose markedly to US $1.84 billion in 2006, and now exceeds US $2 billion.

Of our oil import bill, 33% is used to produce electricity, 28% in road and rail transportation and 14% in the bauxite/alumina sector. Making the electricity generation sector the largest consumer of oil. You can see from these numbers, that it is foolhardy to continue on the same path.

Consumption of oil by sector. Source of image: Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica

Various projects over the years, sought to diversify our fuel source, we've had minor successes in this area. However, on the push to reduce electricity tariffs, there has been not any success.

US Shale Oil And Gas Boom, And Possible Benefits To Jamaica.

Thanks to new hydraulic fracturing (fracking) techniques; techniques used to extract natural gas from shale rock formations, and relatively high oil and gas prices, the United States have been able to do the improbable. It was once thought that the US had reached their peak petroleum output. 

However, data out of the US shows that, Crude oil output in 2014 was the highest since 1986. See for additional information The US Hasn't Produced This Much Oil Since 1986. This has spurred the US to loosen a four decades long export ban on Light crude. A step that should be beneficial to Jamaica and the Caribbean.

News emerged late last year, that the US may assist Jamaica to solve our perennial energy problem. Information was also available today in the Jamaica Gleaner, entitled A Hug From Uncle Sam.

The news piece suggests that, Prime minister Portia Simpson Miller and Energy minister Phillip Paulwell Will be meeting the US Secretary of sate John Kerry on January 26. The aim of the meeting is find solutions to Jamaica's Energy Woes, while exploring areas of cooperation. The article didn't elaborate on the extent of assistance. However, it is likely that Energy minister Phillip Paulwell will be seeking access to cheap natural gas to supply future energy projects, a step that has been futile over the years.

Let's hope for a fruitful outcome, as this would augment the renewable energy projects, diversify Jamaica's fuel mix and lower electricity tariff rates.


Frequently Asked Questions

Background, Energy Efficiency and Conservation

Friday, 16 January 2015

78 MWs Of Renewable Capacity to be added to the grid by 2016

Jamaica has just over 800 megawatts of installed power generation capacity, this was previously expressed in my blog post titled "Reducing The Cost Of Energy In Jamaica". Of this total, renewable energy makes up a small fraction of generation capacity.

Data from the petroleum corporation of Jamaica, suggests that renewable energy was responsible for 9% of the aforementioned total in 2009. Heavy fuel oil makes up the remaining total, with the high cost of crude on the world market, this makes Jamaica highly exposed to external shocks.  In this regards, the aim of energy officials is to have 12.5% in installed renewable energy capacity by 2015/2016.

Wigton wind farm in south Manchester. Source of image: Jamaica Gleaner

This target seems plausible, as evident by recent pronouncements attributable to Science, Technology, Energy and Mining minister, Phillip Paulwell in the Jamaica Information Service (JIS). The minister suggests that, ground breaking on 78 megawatts of renewable energy capacity to take place by February of this year, and a completion date of March 2016. See the article for additional reading " Renewable Energy Projects To Add 78 Megawatts To National Grid".

A breakdown of the figure shows, 58 megawatts of additional wind power will augment what exists at wigton in Manchester. BMR wind Jamaica will add 34 megawatts of wind energy in Malvern, St Elizabeth. The petroleum corporation of Jamaica will add 24 megawatts of wind at the Manchester based, wigton wind farm. Additionally, WRB enterprises will build Jamaica's first solar photovoltaic plant, rated at 20 megawatts in Content Village, Clarendon.

The initial bidding round by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), sought to secure 115 megawatts of renewable energy to add to the national grid. However, 78 megawatts of renewable energy was secured. Seeing that the aforementioned projects should be operational by Q1 2016, a new bidding round to secure additional renewable capacity should commence in the shortest possible time. As we need to make every effort to diversify Jamaica's energy mix, with renewable energy being a major contributor.

The long-term target of the energy ministry, is to have 20% renewable energy capacity on the local grid by 2030. However, minister Phillip Paulwell along with energy stakeholders insist that 30% is an achievable target, let's see what future brings.


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Is Jamaica Prepared For A Major Earthquake?

Tuesday January 12, 2015, marked the 5 Th anniversary of the 2010 Haiti. The intensity was measured a remarkable 7.0. M on the Moment Magnitude Scale (MMS), a scale designated to measure the intensity of earthquakes. The MMS scale is preferred to the somewhat antiquated, Richter scale, that is said to underestimate higher magnitude earthquakes. However, the Richter scale is said to be a better measure of lower end earthquakes.

A fact to note is, to the eastern and southern end of the Island, Jamaica share the Enriquillo fault zone with Hispaniola. The Enriquillo fault zone is responsible for numerous earthquakes within the past 400 years. Including the aforementioned Haiti earthquake, the 1907 Kingston earthquake and the destructive 1692 earthquake that destroyed Port Royal. To the north and western end of Jamaica, lies the Walton fault zone. Both Walton and Enriquillo fault zones, separates the Gonave microplate from the Caribbean plate.

 Gonave And Caribbean plates. Source of images: UWI earthquake unit 

The 1907 Kingston earthquake was measured at 6.5. M on the Moment Magnitude Scale, not dissimilar to the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In technical terms, the 1907 earthquake was three times smaller in comparison to the 2010 Haitian earthquake, and released fewer than six times the energy of the 2010 Haitian earthquake. However, it is estimated that 1000 individuals were killed, with approximately 10 000 individuals left homeless.

The big daddy of the aforementioned earthquakes to affect Jamaica, was the disreputable 1692 Port Royal earthquake. It had an intensity of 7.5. M, a local tsunami was also triggered. It is estimated that 2000 individuals were killed. Additionally, approximately 66% of the Port Royal archipelago sank, destroying virtually everything. There were also numerous reports of landslides across Jamaica.

Is Jamaica Prepared For the Inevitable?

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) designates the month of January as earthquake awareness month. Quoting from the earthquake unit at the University of the West Indies (UWI) "About 200 earthquakes are located in and around Jamaica per year most of which are minor, having magnitudes less than 4.0.". However, are we prepared for the next major earthquake?

A February 7, 2014 story in the Jamaica Gleaner, suggests that approximately 70% of designed buildings, are done without the input of building professionals. See the Jamaica Gleaner story for additional information: Jamaica's New Building Code Imminent.

Giddy House in Port Royal, Kingston. A region that is prone to liquefaction. Source of Image: Clarmo

A worrying statistic. But a study commissioned by NEM insurance company, implies that Jamaica should fare better Haiti, in the event of a 7.0. M earthquake. The study was carried out by the Mona Geoinformatics Institute and the earthquake unit at the University of the West Indies (UWI). The study suggests that eastern parishes should fare the worst. This attributable to the geology of the area, an area that is prone to landslides and liquefaction.

Despite being relatively prepared for a major earthquake, steps should be taken to improve our preparation for the inevitable. This includes proclamation of a new building code, providing required funding to the essential services and educating the public on what should be done in the event of a major earthquake. We cannot prevent earthquakes, but the aforementioned steps should go a far way in reducing property loss and loss of life.


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

America To Normalize Relations With Cuba; What are the implications to Jamaica?

The Five decades long embargo against Cuba is still in place, it came about following the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. However, somewhat surprising news came last December; the US announced the initiation of steps to normalize relations with Cuba. The announcement is generally seen as a positive development, but apprehension is also perceptible, especially within the Caribbean region. I'll explore whether the fear of US-Cuba diplomatic normalization is justified.

Plaza Vieja, Havana. Source of Image: Brian Snelson on Flickr.

A myriad of changes were contained in President Obama's announcement regarding US-Cuba relations, the aim of these changes are to take a flexible approach to diplomacy, as was done with China. The changes include relaxation on US-Cuban travel, though a ban on direct tourism travel remains. Plus, an increase in the sum that can be remitted to Cuba. Additional changes in the flow of information and commerce are expected.

What are the implications to Jamaica

On the positive side, benefits of the move will not be immediate, similarly, negative implications are not expected in the short term. The biggest worry is Cuba being a threat to the regional tourism industry, to be specific, the tourism industry here in Jamaica.

But with an Embargo in place, and the continued ban on tourist travel, Jamaica will maintain Its presence as a major player in regional tourism. Plus, it is said that tourist visits Jamaica because of our culture and strong brand, a trend that is likely to continue. However, this threat should not be taken likely, I urge stakeholders to implement measures to improve competitiveness to limit possible fallout, knowing that removal of the embargo is inevitable. Additionally, the ministry of  tourism must increase airlift and diversify tourism offerings.

Cuba's tourism industry wouldn't be considered nascent. In fact, their room stock consists of approximately 30 000, with at estimated 3 million tourists. A breakdown of the figure indicates that Canada is their primary source market. With diplomatic normalization, a gradual increase in American travelers are expected. However, removal of the embargo should allow for an exponential growth in the aforementioned travelers, possibly at a lost their neighbours.

On the economic side, an increase in remittance will have a positive on Cuban spending. However, removal of the embargo should provide an astronomical boost to the Cuban economy. Namely in areas such as telecommunications, construction, manufacturing and tourism.

In such a situation, Cuba's regional neighbours may see a reduction in foreign direct investment. Despite the possible negatives, opportunities for Jamaican and Caribbean business would be numerous. Plus, with over 11 million people, Cuba would be the largest Caribbean market. In other words, with time, Cuba may become a major consumer of regional goods.

I implore on the Jamaican government, private sector and individuals to improve their competiveness; while awaiting US-Cuba normalization, and the inevitable removal of the 5 decades long embargo. Doing otherwise may be fatal, economically speaking. However, be it cliche, let's see what pans out with time.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

To Break Or Not To Break?

Negril, Westmoreland is well known to be a tourism dependent region. Tourism is a major employer of residents, not to mention the approximately US$ 500 million generated by tourism activities. However, the shoreline is now under threat, attributable to human activity, sea rise and anomalously high storm activity. As a result, studies have been done to remedy to situation, or halting the precipitous rate of beach erosion.

Negril beach, Westmoreland. Source of image: koolandgang

Over the past year, there have been widespread discussion on plans to build a breakwater to protect the shoreline at the tourism dependent Negril, Westmoreland. Hoteliers, residents and environmental groups have been generally against the building of breakwaters, which is expected to be implemented by the National Works Agency (NWA), under the watch of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). The method that is preferred by the aforementioned stakeholders is Beach nourishment. The argument is that a breakwater would not be aesthetically pleasing, and could result in major economic losses. Let's take a look at what's planned, and the possible alternative.


Breakwaters are considered to be hard structures. Quoting the marine engineering section of the Britannica " a break water is an artificial structure protecting a harbour, anchorage, or marina basin from water waves."

The primary aim of a breakwater is to absorb wave energy and protect a shoreline from erosion. We know from Physics, that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Energy transitions to a different form, or energy transfer between two bodies. We can see the latter while floating in the ocean, waves pass by an individual, but we remain in the same position. Essentially, the water is not moving, but energy is being transferred between water molecules.
I mentioned the above to suggest that a breakwater is best suited for a region with high wave energy. Plus, the breakwater method is relatively inexpensive when compared to beach nourishment.

On the downside, if a fixed breakwater is built, It's considered to be aesthetically displeasing. Construction time is often lengthy, leading to economic losses. Plus, a rock can be displaced during a storm surge.

Beach Nourishment

To understand what's beach nourishment, I'll share a quote by Sea Grant California "Beach Nourishment, or beach replenishment, is the practice of adding sand or sediment to beaches to combat erosion and increase beach width." 

Beach Nourishment is generally a preferred option to mitigating beach erosion, this because It's easily implemented. Plus, It is said to be aesthetically pleasing, and allows for natural beach accretion. Additionally, studies have shown that erosion is somewhat slowed during storm activity, if beach nourishment is done properly.

On the downside, beach nourishment is expensive. Marine animals on the beach can be killed, and beach nourishment has to be continuous. In other words, It may not be sustainable, especially if funds are limited.


It's imperative that a solution is found to the ongoing erosion, as failure to find a solution will result in major economic losses to Negril and the entire Jamaica. My view is that, beach nourishment can augment the benefits of a breakwater, instead of having a single method. But let's see what pans out in the coming months, seeing that the breakwater plan was recently approved.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Recovery of Jamaica's Bauxite/Alumina Sector?

Bauxite/Alumina has long been a major part of our history, at least in independent Jamaica. It is the heaviest industry in Jamaica. Before the recession in 2008/2009, Jamaica was producing in excess of 14 million tonnes of bauxite, and approximately 4 million tonnes of Alumina annually. This has fallen significantly, especially with two dormant plants since 2009. Export earnings peaked at over US $1.3 billion in 2008, making the bauxite/alumina Sector the third largest foreign exchange earner.

However, with the price of Aluminum well below that of 2008, export earnings are markedly below the aforementioned figure. The sector was dealt a severe blow in the recession, attributable to lower prices of the metal, in addition to exorbitant energy cost. Two of our four Alumina plants have been closed since 2009, But recent announcements suggests that this could change in the short to medium term. For additional information on the bauxite/alumina Sector, visit: Jamaica Bauxite Institute

Bauxite mining in Jamaica. Source of Image:JIS

The announcement by minister Phillip Paulwell, of impending mining operations at Aluminum Partners of Jamaica (ALPART) has been greeted with excitement, especially in south east St Elizabeth and south Manchester. These bauxite producing areas have been plagued by high unemployment, and weak economic activity. But residents are now optimistic about a possible change in fortune.

Mining operations at ALPART is said to resume in January 2015, with export of the ore in July 2015. Sadly, residents have to wait until December 2016 before the Alumina refinery is up and running. Minister Phillip Paulwell states that investment in a power plant, port and plant facilities amount to approximately US $ 400 million, with job opportunities for a possible 1200 people.

A visit to nearby communities in which Alpart and Kirkvine plants operate makes the fallout in bauxite/alumina sector conspicuous, many towns or communities appear as virtual ghost towns, namely Nain in south east St Elizabeth and Content in Central Manchester. Mandeville, Manchester is doing better, but the fallout is still evident, any upswing in bauxite/alumina is a positive for the aforementioned area.

Word from Phillip Paulwell, suggests that discussion on the future of the Kirvine refinery is taking place. A positive outcome should be welcome. In terms of the wider Jamaican economy, having these plants open will help to decrease the unemployment rate, increase foreign exchange earnings and help to boost GDP growth.

Though many positives are associated with the bauxite/Alumina sector, issues of land reclamation has been perennial. Steps should be taken to remedy this problem.

 Land reclamation in central Manchester. Source of image: nigel182

But all and all, with improving Aluminum prices, steps taken to lower the cost of energy, and more automobile manufacturers planning to substitute Steel with Aluminum. Sustained growth in our bauxite/alumina sector seem likely, especially if the above conditions come to fruition. With that said, mining and alumina production in Jamaica should continue for sometime.