Kingston (Jamaica), 9 December 2011 - The use of science to show the crucial role of coral reefs, sea grasses and other coastal ecosystems in reducing the impacts of natural disasters and climate change was the focus of a technical workshop held in Kingston this week.

The workshop focused on practical training to support policy and land-use planning and included the use of satellite images to classify environmental features, computer software for identifying the role of ecosystems and scientific methods for estimating the potential exposure of coastal communities to rising seas and other storm impacts.

Staged by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), GRID-Geneva and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), the training targeted technical experts from government and academia who had some knowledge of Geographic Information Systems, and remote sensing and statistical analyses.

The training was the latest step in a global initiative called the Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Methodology Development Project (RiVAMP), which is assisting national and local governments to effectively evaluate their development options by recognizing the role of ecosystems in reducing risk and adapting to climate change impacts.

The RiVAMP initiative was conceived to develop an assessment tool that will aid the analysis of disaster risk and vulnerability, and specifically targets Small Island Development States and other coastal areas that are highly vulnerable to tropical cyclones, related hazards and accelerated sea level rise.

RiVAMP was pilot tested in Jamaica in 2009 and 2010 in collaboration with the government, led by the PIOJ, and supported by the University of the West Indies.

The pilot assessment highlighted the critical importance of protecting and enhancing ecosystems to reduce disaster risk and build resilience against climate change impacts.

As a follow-up to the pilot project, the Government of Jamaica requested UNEP to conduct national-level training to help build capacity for applying the RiVAMP methodology in other parts of Jamaica and the Caribbean.

The technical training this week was therefore based on the RiVAMP methodology and used web-based technology and open source software to enable knowledge transfer and replicability in different locations. More than 20 participants followed the training.

The week-long workshop concluded today with a special awareness raising session for policy makers, attended by the Minister of Housing, Environment, Water and Local Government, which included a panel discussion on an ecosystems-based approach to planning in Jamaica.

Other proposed collaboration between UNEP and the government for follow-up includes an economic valuation of coastal ecosystem services as well as an integrated strategic environmental assessment to establish a sustainable development framework for the area of Negril in western Jamaica.

A 2010 report on the pilot project, Linking ecosystems to risk and vulnerability reduction: The case of Jamaica, is available at: http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/RiVAMP.pdf.