SCIENTISTS on Tuesday revealed that while Jamaica could be hit with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, similar to that felt in Haiti last January, the country would fare much better than its French-speaking neighbour.
They made their conclusions based on an earthquake risk model tested on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault that extends from the south of Hispaniola to the Plantain Garden River area of eastern Jamaica.
Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee, director of Mona GeoInformatics Institute which carried out the study in tandem with the Earthquake Unit at the University of the West Indies, said Jamaica would not suffer as much as Haiti, neither in terms of absolute numbers nor the percentage of infrastructure and population affected.
The risk model was commissioned by NEM Insurance Company to determine the adequacy of its reinsurance coverage.
Addressing a function at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston on Tuesday to present the findings, Dr Lyew-Ayee noted that while the entire island would feel the impact of such a tremor, about 75 per cent would only feel shaking enough to cause structural damage to some buildings.
This, he said, covered an area containing over 2.2 million people and over 480,000 buildings.
"Eastern Jamaica would feel the worst effects, with 87 per cent of Portland and 83 per cent of St Thomas experiencing MMI VIII," he said further.
'MMI' refers to the observed effects of earthquakes while 'VIII' speaks to effects such as twisted, damaged and/or fallen chimneys, factory stacks, towers, elevated tanks, monuments and free-standing walls of stucco or masonry construction.
'VIII' can also result in considerable damage to ordinary buildings with some partially collapsing. Branches will be broken, changes in the flow or temperature of springs and wells will occur as well as cracks in wet ground and steep slopes.
While not speaking directly to the effects such an earthquake would have on Portmore, the Norman Manley International Airport, and Newport West for example, which were built on reclaimed lands, Dr Lyew-Ayee said they would be areas of concern.
Explaining how the testing was done, Dr Lyew-Ayee said the Haiti tremblor was simulated at the worst possible position for Jamaica.
"We created a Haiti in Jamaica scenario with the same depth and magnitude," he said.
Lyew-Ayee said he was grateful to NEM for having commissioned the study since there has only been a lot of talk since the Haiti event, but not much else.
Meanwhile, NEM's general manager Chris Hind said the model demonstrated that the company's reinsurance provisions with overseas providers was adequate to cope with such a disaster, as well as a second catastrophe in the same year.
Such models, he said, were valuable to general insurance companies to ensure they have adequate coverage in the event of a disaster.
"Reinsurance coverage is finite and subject to event limits, which means we buy reinsurance up to a given level of loss. When that is exhausted, only our own capital and reserves remain to pay claims," he explained.
Deciding how much reinsurance to buy and where to set event limits, he said, have traditionally been guided by the output of international catastrophe models.
"Unfortunately, whilst these models are sophisticated and widely accepted, they have limitations when it comes to accurately predicting the impact of catastrophes on small Caribbean nations such as Jamaica," Hind said.
The reason, according to Hind, is that the companies which develop the models have limited knowledge of local conditions and have not spent the time and resources to develop a detailed understanding.
"For them, Jamaica is not a lucrative market for catastrophe modelling, therefore locations such as the south-eastern or western United States get their attention because there is much more value at risk," he said.
NEM therefore decided to partner with Lyew-Ayee and his team to strengthen risk management and protect partners and customers, Hind said.