"Sound environmental policy is critical to development"July 31st, 2011
In Jamaica, a decision to merge housing and environmental responsibilities into a single ministry has stoked controversy and raised questions about the government’s priorities, writes 24-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent Nakeeta Nembhard.
Recently there has been much discussion surrounding the re-allocation of the environment portfolio to the Ministry of Housing & Water in Jamaica.
The range of views vary in degrees from the belief that the environment portfolio should be a singular responsibility/Ministry, to the belief that its pairing with the Ministry of Housing & Water is entirely appropriate.
Regardless of where the environment portfolio resides, there is no disputing its importance as environmental considerations are a major component of most, if not all, of a nation’s major development objectives. However, it would often seem that these considerations are foregone in the hope of expediting particular initiatives or projects.
This contention is not foreign to Jamaica as environmental interest groups frequently appear in the media advocating against such practices and the projects which are associated with them, a number of which have been housing developments.
This particular issue featured in the discussion in a recent episode of the current affairs programme “All Angles” which aired on Television Jamaica on July 6, 2011, where the pairing of the environment portfolio with that of housing and water was the focus of the discussion. Among the panelists were the Minister of Housing and Water, Dr. Horace Chang, and two of the country’s most prominent environmentalists, Diana McCaulay and Peter Espeut.
One of the concerns noted by the latter two was that in past times approvals had been granted for developments which posed a direct threat to the natural environment – whether through their establishment or simply from their existence.
The minister reiterated the government’s commitment to environmental responsibility, noting that one of the major prongs of any housing strategy was the grounding of it in proper environmental planning and adding that sound environmental policy is critical to the development of a small island state.
It is clear that there is an acknowledgment of the importance of environmental considerations in development. This is neither a revelation nor a novel concept, as sustainable development has become a commonplace phrase in much of the rhetoric surrounding the development aspirations and objectives of small island developing states such as Jamaica.
However, in spite of this acknowledgement there is the urgent need to progress from rhetoric to strategizing and implementation, specifically as it relates to environmental preservation bearing in mind its importance for the longevity of any development.
Human settlement is often considered to have the most significant impact on the environment. With the pairing of the environment portfolio with housing and water, this Ministry not only has an opportunity to ensure that housing policies and initiatives are within the ambit of responsible environmental behaviour, but that similar considerations are taken into account for all other areas of focus within the country’s overall national development plan.
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