In March 2019 the BRACED project, or Building Resilience and Capacities for Emerging Disasters, led by Habitat for Humanity in Jamaica which sought to increase disaster resilience within informal settlements, came to an end. However, the informal communities of Naggo Head, Newlands and Gregory Park in Portmore, Jamaica will continue to see long-lasting impacts from the project.
Why? Because community members’ involvement has been fundamental to the project’s core, and the BRACED project has put systems in place to make sure community members have the tools and resources to continue disaster resilience efforts far into the future.
The BRACED project began in 2014 as part of a USAID grant. Of Jamaica’s population of around 3 million people, a quarter live in 700 informal, or unplanned, settlements. Only 45 percent of land in Jamaica is registered, including much of the land within informal communities. Those living in informal settlements without secure tenure face greater risk during disaster; without secure tenure, most find it difficult to invest in disaster resilient activities to secure their homes. The government tends to be more cautious, and thus much slower when assisting those without security of tenure, which includes proof of land ownership or a lease of rental agreement that authorizes land occupation.
The BRACED project has employed a holistic, participatory approach to disaster-risk reduction, developing the capacity of community members and the government to improve access to financing, housing materials, water and sanitation practices, policy and planning processes, community infrastructure and tenure security.
The BRACED project has seen some successes in these approaches. Habitat for Humanity hosted a variety of workshops and forums to train community members and government officials on secure tenure and disaster resilience measures. The project connected community leaders and municipal authorities to work together on improving policies and processes, particularly around complex and expensive land regularization processes. As a result, trained community advocates continue to seek policy change around land rights even after the project has ended.
The BRACED project team introduced the use of technology to map informal settlements as a contributing step towards increasing secure tenure. Specifically, they trained community members in using the Territorial Information Management System Platform, or TIMSP, and drone technologies. The open source platform allows community members to accurately and quickly map their own homes and their neighbors’ homes, protecting land rights.
Replacing older and slower surveying techniques, drone technology has allowed for broader community access and has aided in fast-tracking the process towards secure tenure. With improved tenure security, families have now begun securing their homes against disaster with resilient building skills also taught to community members through the BRACED project.
Multiple stakeholders will continue to use the technology and mapping skills introduced going forward. Not only are community members trained in using this technology, but government officials have found the TIMSP so helpful that they have also requested training.
Essential to the BRACED project’s holistic approach has been the engagement of youth. By 2030, youth aged 15-24 years old will comprise 1.3 billion of the world’s population. Youth populations in developing countries will double by 2055. Youth are increasingly mobile and find their homes in urban areas, causing increased pressure on housing in cities. As a result, many youth live in informal settlements, putting them at greater risk when disasters strike. This reality is prevalent in Portmore.
Videographer James Taylor, from Slum Dwellers International and Vanessa Hirneis, from Habitat for Humanity International’s Latin America and Caribbean office, co-led a three-week youth media literacy training with nine youth participants. During the course, the group learned about youth empowerment, leadership, advocacy and media for social change. Together, they developed professional audio-visual content about their own community.
After the course, the youth took ownership of the film equipment and have continued to work together on independent film projects, participating in national film competitions. Through their work, they are reclaiming the narratives of their own communities. In a community with many barriers to stable employment and income, their new equipment and skills have opened up economic opportunities for the youth. The impact of the project will continue to transform the lives of the youth who took the course and all who watch their films far beyond the end of the BRACED project.
Understanding that the BRACED project was a four-year project, Habitat for Humanity was sure to create systems that could last much longer. One such system is the establishment of community-based hubs within Naggo Head and Gregory Park. These hubs hold resources, technology and expertise around land issues. There are currently two hubs with three technical experts in the areas of law, community mobilization and GIS mapping technology who support the overall management and processing of land issues at the hubs. This technical team has created their own company called BRACED Land Management Solutions so that the hubs can continue to operate. These hubs are an incredible resource for strengthening secure tenure in the community. The hubs’ success derives from the strong trust they have with the community.
BRACED has dynamically transformed community participation around land management and disaster resilience in the communities of Naggo Head, Gregory Park and beyond. In fact, aspects of the BRACED project are being replicated in other areas of Jamaica. Government authorities are implementing a pilot project, modeled after the BRACED Habitat Fast Track Process.