Geography

Jamaica

May 23, 2012, 12:08 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Satellite imagery of Jamaica. Source: U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Jamaica is an island nation od nearly three million people in the Caribbean Sea.

It is located about 145 kilometres (90 mi) south of Cuba, and 190 kilometres (120 mi) west of the island of Hispaniola, on which Haiti and the Dominican Republic are situated.

After Hispaniola and Cuba, Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean.

 

Its major environmental issues include:

Jamaica is susceptible to hurricanes, especially from July to November.

Arawaks from South America had settled in Jamaica prior to Christopher Columbus' first arrival at the island in 1494. During Spain's occupation of the island, starting in 1510, the Arawaks were exterminated by disease, slavery, and war. Spain brought the first African slaves to Jamaica in 1517.

In 1655, British forces seized the island, and in 1670, Great Britain gained formal possession.

Sugar made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world for more than 150 years.

The British Parliament abolished slavery as of August 1, 1834. The abolition of slavery freed a quarter million slaves, many of whom became small farmers.

After a long period of direct British colonial rule, Jamaica gained a degree of local political control in the late 1930s, and held its first election under full universal adult suffrage in 1944. Jamaica joined nine other U.K. territories in the West Indies Federation in 1958 but withdrew after Jamaican voters rejected membership in 1961. Jamaica gained independence in 1962, remaining a member of the Commonwealth.

Jamaica gradually obtained increasing independence from Britain, and in 1958 it joined other British Caribbean colonies in forming the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica gained full independence when it withdrew from the Federation in 1962.

Jamaica has a strategic location between Cayman Trench and Jamaica Channel, the main sea lanes for the Panama Canal.

Geography

Location: Caribbean, island in the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba

Geographic Coordinates: 18 15 N, 77 30 W

Area: 10,991 square km (10,831 sq km land and 160 sq km water)

Coastline: 1022 km

Maritime Claims: (measured from claimed archipelagic straight baselines) Territorial sea to 12 nautical miles; Contiguous zone to 24 nautical miles; exclusive economic zone to 200 nautical miles; continental shelf to 200 nautical miles or to edge of the continental margin

Natural Resources: bauxite, gypsum, limestone

Land Use:

Arable land: 15.83%
Permanent crops: 10.01%
Other: 74.16% (2005)

Natural Hazards: Hurricanes (especially July to November)

Terrain: Mostly mountains, with narrow, discontinuous coastal plain. The island consists of two main mountain ranges, the John Crow Mountains in the east and the Blue mountains. The highest point is Blue Mountain Peak (2256 meters).



Source: Wikimedia Commons
 

Climate: Tropical; hot, humid; temperate interior.

Ecology and Biodiversity

Source: World Wildlife Fund

  1. Greater Antilles mangroves (Bahamoan-Antillean mangroves). Because of their location on large islands, the mangroves of the Greater Antilles support relatively high levels of endemic flora and fauna, and are often part of complex assemblages of habitats that are as diverse as the conditions found in various parts of these islands. Mangroves are also a particularly important feature of Caribbean shores, as they form a barrier that helps to protect the coastal area from tropical storms and hurricanes that have become more intense in recent years. They are also important as barriers against salinization of coastal soils and groundwater and support fisheries upon which most of the population is dependent.
     
  2. Jamaican dry forests. The Jamaican dry forests cover most of the northwestern, western and southern coastal areas of Jamaica and are home to more than twenty species of endemic birds and when looking at the island as a whole; more than on any other Caribbean island as well as numerous endemic reptiles and amphibians. This ecoregion comprises approximately 15% of the land area on the island and covers most of the dry forests near the coast. The forests in this ecoregion have suffered significant pressure due to deforestation, widespread plantation agriculture and other population-related development. With increased tourism, more emphasis has been directed toward developing a system of protected areas within this ecoregion.

  3. Jamaican moist forests. The moist forests of this Jamaica are characterized by rich floral and faunal diversity. In contrast to the rest of the Caribbean archipelago, Jamaica was never connected to another landmass. As a result, the island has a particularly high proportion of endemic species for both plants and animals. Two notable forest areas in this ecoregion are the Blue and John Crow Mountains and Cockpit Country. Deforestation rates in this ecoregion are very high; however, due to the establishment of new protected area and management systems these rates are expected to slow, since logging is prohibited. Although a lack of adequate environmental legislation and enforcement seem obvious impediments to conservation, the fundamental problem in Jamaica. as in many other areas, is the deep and pervasive poverty throughout the island nation.

Jamaica ranks fifth among the worlds islands in terms of endemic plant life.

See also Biological diversity in the Caribbean Islands and Caribbean Sea large marine ecosystem

Protected Areas

In 1990, Jamaica created the country's first national park, Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park. It's 306 square miles (795 square km or seven percent of the island) are in the eastern third of the island. Other protected areas include:

Kingston, Jamaica. Source: Abir Anwar
Dunns River Fall, Ocho Ríos, Jamaica. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Lovers' Leap Point in Saint Elizabeth Parish, on the south west coast of Jamaica. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
  • Negril Marine Park
  • Black River Morass
  • Royal Palm Reserve
  • Dolphin Head Reserve
  • Ocho Rios Marine Park
  • Cockpit Country Reserve
  • Port Antonio Marine Park
  • Montego Bay Marine Park
  • Palisadoes-Port Royal Protected Area
  • Portland Bight Protected Area

People and Society

Population: 2,889,187 (July 2012 est.)

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 30.1% (male 438,888/female 424,383)
15-64 years: 62.3% (male 882,548/female 904,242)
65 years and over: 7.6% (male 97,717/female 120,602) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 0.714% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 18.89 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 6.59 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -5.17 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Historically, Jamaican emigration has been heavy. Since the United Kingdom restricted emigration in 1967, the major flow has been to the United States and Canada. About 20,000 Jamaicans emigrate to the United States each year; another 200,000 visit annually. New York, Miami, Chicago, and Hartford are among the U.S. cities with a significant Jamaican population.

Life Expectancy at Birth: 73.43 years

male: 71.78 years
female: 75.15 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 2.12 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: English, English patois

Literacy: 87.9%

Urbanization: 52% of total population (2010) growing at an 0.6% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

History

Arawaks from South America had settled in Jamaica prior to Christopher Columbus' first arrival at the island in 1494. During Spain's occupation of the island, starting in 1510, the Arawaks were exterminated by disease, slavery, and war. Spain brought the first African slaves to Jamaica in 1517. In 1655, British forces seized the island, and in 1670, Great Britain gained formal possession.

Sugar made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world for more than 150 years. The British Parliament abolished slavery as of August 1, 1834. After a long period of direct British colonial rule, Jamaica gained a degree of local political control in the late 1930s, and held its first election under full universal adult suffrage in 1944. Jamaica joined nine other U.K. territories in the West Indies Federation in 1958 but withdrew after Jamaican voters rejected membership in 1961. Jamaica gained independence in 1962, remaining a member of the Commonwealth.

Historically, Jamaican emigration has been heavy. Since the United Kingdom restricted emigration in 1967, the major flow has been to the United States and Canada. About 20,000 Jamaicans emigrate to the United States each year; another 200,000 visit annually. New York, Miami, Chicago, and Hartford are among the U.S. cities with a significant Jamaican population.

Government

The 1962 constitution established a parliamentary system based on the U.K. model. As chief of state, Queen Elizabeth II appoints a governor general, on the advice of the prime minister, as her representative in Jamaica. The governor general's role is largely ceremonial. Executive power is vested in the cabinet, led by the prime minister. The People's National Party (PNP) government that was elected in December 2011 is considering detaching Jamaica from the monarchy and establishing a republic with an indigenous president as head of state.

Parliament is composed of an appointed Senate and an elected House of Representatives. Thirteen Senators are nominated on the advice of the prime minister and eight on the advice of the leader of the opposition. The House has 63 Representatives. General elections must be held within 5 years of the forming of a new government. The prime minister may ask the governor general to call elections sooner, however. The Senate may submit bills, and it also reviews legislation submitted by the House. It may not delay budget bills for more than 1 month or other bills for more than 7 months. The prime minister and the cabinet are selected from the Parliament. The prime minister and minister of finance must be members of the House of Representatives; other ministers may come from the House or the Senate subject to the stipulation that no fewer than two or more than four members of the cabinet must be selected from the Senate.

Jamaica's political system is stable. However, the country's serious economic problems have exacerbated social problems and are the subject of political debate. High unemployment--averaging at least 12.0%--rampant underemployment, growing debt, and high interest rates are the most challenging economic problems. Violent crime is a serious problem, particularly in Kingston.

Government Type: constitutional parliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth realm

Capital: Kingston (capital) 580,000 (2009)

Astronaut photograph of  Kingston, Jamaica and nearby areas (2010). Source: NASA
 

Administrative divisions:  14 parishes;

  1. Hanover
  2. Saint Elizabeth
  3. Saint James
  4. Trelawny
  5. Westmoreland
  6. Clarendon
  7. Manchester
  8. Saint Ann
  9. Saint Catherine
  10. Saint Mary
  11. Kingston
  12. Portland
  13. Saint Andrew
  14. Saint Thomas

Source: Wikimedia Commons

note: for local government purposes, Kingston and Saint Andrew were amalgamated in 1923 into the present single corporate body known as the Kingston and Saint Andrew Corporation

 

Independence Date: 6 August 1962 (from the UK)

Legal System:   The judiciary also is modeled on the U.K. system. The Court of Appeals is the highest appellate court in Jamaica. Under certain circumstances, cases may be appealed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. Jamaica's parishes have elected councils that exercise limited powers of local government. There is increasing discussion about replacing the Privy Council as the ultimate appeal body with either the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) or a domestic (Jamaican) institution. Jamaica accepts compulsory International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction; and accepts International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction.

International Environmental Agreements

Jamaica is party to international agreements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution and Wetlands.

Water

Total renewable water resources: 9.4 cu km (2000)

Total Freshwater withdrawal:  0.41 cu km/yr  (34% domestic/ 17% industrial/ 49% agricultural)

Per Capita Freshwater withdrawal: 155 cu m/yr (2000)

Fifty-six percent of the average annual rainfall is lost to evapotranspiration. The internal renewable water resources (IRWR) are 9.4 cubic kilometres per year (km3/year), with 5.5 and 3.9 km3/year for surface and groundwater respectively.

See Water profile of Jamaica

Energy

In March 2001, the U.S.-based utility, Mirant Corporation, completed an 80 percent acquisition of formerly government-owned Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSC), a fully integrated company which generates, transmits, distributes and sells power on the island. Following the Mirant acquisition, the reliability of the island’s electricity system improved, and the completion of the 120-megawatt (MW) Bogue power plant added crucial surplus generation capacity. Currently the Jamaican government is formulating a new national energy policy, which is considering alternative fuels to lessen its dependence on fuel oil. As mentioned previously, the government hopes to import LNG for new gas-fired power plants.

See Energy profile of the Caribbean region

Ocho Rios from Shaw Park. Source: Ryan Sinn

Economy

Jamaica's economy is improving, following the effects of the global financial meltdown. However, the country still faces serious long-term macro-economic problems, including a sizable merchandise trade deficit, large-scale unemployment and underemployment, and a debt-to-GDP ratio of over 130%. The high debt burden has led to underinvestment in public infrastructure, education, and crime reduction strategies. This, combined with high-cost energy, continues to erode confidence in the productive sector. Jamaica's onerous debt burden--the fourth-highest per capita--is the result of government bailouts of ailing sectors of the economy, most notably the financial sector in the mid-to-late 1990s.

The government faces the difficult prospect of having to achieve fiscal discipline in order to maintain debt payments while simultaneously addressing the structural bottlenecks hampering economic growth. The private sector complains sharply about challenges to doing business on the island, but successive governments, while acknowledging the bottlenecks, have not shown the political will needed to resolve them. Although official statistics reflect decades of economic stagnation in Jamaica, a World Bank (WB) study suggested that inclusion of the informal sector would raise Jamaica’s GDP statistics by as much as 40%.

The country's economy is heavily dependent on services, which now account for more than 60% of GDP. Jamaica continues to derive most of its foreign exchange from tourism, remittances, and bauxite/alumina. Remittances account for nearly 15% of GDP and are equivalent to tourism revenues. Remittances dipped during the global crisis, but have recovered and are near where they were before the global economic downturn. Three of Jamaica’s four bauxite/alumina firms suspended operations in 2009 due to falling demand amid the global economic downturn. Only one of the three has restarted operations. Inflation was 12.6% in 2010 and 9.6% in 2009 (est.).

Jamaica's economy faces many challenges to growth: high crime and corruption, large-scale unemployment and underemployment, and a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 120%.

Jamaica took two significant steps toward improving its economy in January and February 2010. The first was the Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX), which helped reduce the debt servicing costs for Jamaica by about $450 million per year and provided the country with some fiscal relief. Second, the Government of Jamaica signed a U.S. $1.27 billion, 27-month Standby Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to support the country's economic reforms and help it cope with the consequences of the global economic downturn. The IMF completed three reviews of the Standby Agreement, and Jamaica is seeking negotiations with the IMF for a new agreement. The government has limited fiscal space for infrastructure and social programs, since debt servicing still accounts for a substantial amount of government expenditures.

The government divested itself of Air Jamaica via a sale to Caribbean Airlines. It also sold off its former sugar estates to a Chinese interest, and is in the process of divesting its share of a major bauxite operation.

The Simpson-Miller administration faces the difficult prospect of having to achieve fiscal discipline in order to maintain debt payments, while simultaneously attacking a serious crime problem that is hampering economic growth.

High unemployment exacerbates the crime problem, including gang violence that is fueled by the drug trade.

The private sector complains sharply about challenges to doing business on the island, but successive governments, while acknowledging the bottlenecks, have not shown the political will needed to resolve them. Although official statistics reflect decades of economic stagnation in Jamaica, a World Bank (WB) study suggested that inclusion of the informal sector would raise Jamaica’s GDP statistics by as much as 40%.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $24.58 billion (2011 est.)

GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $14.7 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $9,000 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 5.8%
industry: 29.5%
services: 64.7% (2011 est.)

Industries: Tourism, bauxite/alumina, agro processing, light manufactures, rum, cement, metal, paper, chemical products, telecommunications

Natural Resources: Bauxite, gypsum, limestone

Currency: Jamaican dollars (JMD)

Further Reading

  • Trevor Burnard. 1994. A failed settler society: marriage and demographic failure in early Jamaica, Journal of Social History.
  • P.Sherlock and H.Bennett. 1998. The Story of the Jamaican people. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers.

 

Glossary

Citation

Agency, C., Fund, W., & Department, U. (2012). Jamaica. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/153937

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