The third largest island in the Caribbean Sea is a popular destination for tourists from all over the world because of its lush mountain scenery and Caribbean dream beaches. But this is only one of the facets of the island state. Jamaica is repeatedly hit hard by natural disasters, just like its Caribbean neighbours. Cyclones or floods after heavy rains devastate entire residential areas, especially the slums in and around Kingston.

Extreme weather events are reflected in the development of the country. Jamaica, a constitutional monarchy and member of the Commonwealth, is considered a middle-income country. But the state is heavily in debt. Natural disasters regularly set the country back and weaken the economy. Data confirms that Jamaica is not making much progress. While the state still ranked 88th on the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2008, it fell eight ranks to 96th by 2014. The slums are particularly affected: more than half of the urban population lives in the poorest conditions, with little education and high unemployment figures. Almost a third of the population has no regular work. In terms of hygiene and sanitation, almost nothing has changed in recent years. The water supply is also a challenge. Two thirds of all houses in the regions in and around Kingston are informally built. This increases the risk of being completely destroyed in a hurricane.

Jamaica Vision 2030 under the outcome 15: Sustainable Urban and Rural Development acknowledges squatting as “the shortage of affordable land and housing provisions to keep pace with population growth in the urban centres” whereby it aims to ensure Safe, Sanitary and Affordable Shelter for All. Fulfilling this aim the government of Jamaica is implementing several programs targeting vulnerable groups such as the Inner City Housing Project (ICHP), a sanitation project under the Petrocaribe Development Fund (PDF) and a water project under the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF).

PSUP Contributions and Achievements

PSUP engagement has led to strong support from ministerial level. Input was given during the key conferences and declarations on slums and sustainable urban development in Rabat in November 2012 “Making Slums History: a worldwide challenge for 2020” and Kigali in September 2013 “Sustainable Urbanization for Poverty Eradication”. PSUP was also represented in the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) meeting on sustainable urbanization in May 2014 in New York and the two latest World Urban Forums VI and VII in Naples (September 2012) and in Medellin (April 2014).

In addition to the international engagement of the government, Jamaica also frequently gave inputs to different conferences on gender and urbanization, having one PSUP steering committee member in the Gender Advisory Group of UN-Habitat. This strong political support at the national level triggered the decision to develop a Squatter Settlement Strategy for the country in 2015. Further, through PSUP Jamaica is also adapting the “International Guidelines on Decentralization and Access to Basic Services for All.” Jamaica used its regional leadership to carry out an exchange and training visit in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which joined PSUP recently as a Phase 1 country. The PSUP team further decided to pilot an innovative technological approach to describing slums. This consists of 3D slum mapping in order to improve visualization of slums beyond building material and overcrowding. This mapping revealed the vulnerability of communities inhabiting steep slopes that are high risks in natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes.

This was all achieved through PSUP and the partner ministry as well as other ministries. The three participating urban councils and community members have been trained on participatory processes in decision-making, urban assessment, results-based management, gender and youth in the city and the human rights based approach. They have also been sensitised on planning, basic urban services and housing and land issues in connection with slums in urban areas. This was possible through a dedicated steering committee that meets regularly.

Jamaica is implementing Phase 2 of PSUP in partnership with the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing in the three cities of Montego Bay, Old Harbour and May Pen.