Jamaica

Did you know: 

Jamaicans hold four Commonwealth Games records and three world records.

Four Jamaican women have won Commonwealth Writers’ Prizes: Olive Senior in 1987 (Best Book); Erna Brodber in 1989; Alecia McKenzie in 1993; and Vanessa Spence in 1994.

The Commonwealth Library Association has its secretariat at the Mona, Kingston, campus of the University of the West Indies.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 
1962
Population: 
2,769,000 (2012)
GDP: 
0.5% p.a. 1990–2011
UN HDI: 
world ranking 85
Official language: 
English
Timezone: 
GMT minus 5hr
Currency: 
Jamaican dollar (J$)

Geography

Area: 
10,991 sq km
Coastline: 
1,020km
Capital city: 
Kingston
Population density (per sq. km): 
252

Jamaica, whose name comes from the Arawak Xaymaca, meaning ‘Land of Wood and Water’, lies south of Cuba and west of Haiti.

Main towns: 

Kingston (capital, pop. 577,800 in 2010), Spanish Town (162,400), Portmore (106,000), Montego Bay (79,800), Mandeville (48,300), May Pen (45,700), Old Harbour (28,700), Linstead (22,800), Savanna-la-Mar (19,400), Half Way Tree (18,100), St Ann’s Bay (14,900), Port Antonio (14,300), Bog Walk (14,200), Ewarton (14,100), Constant Spring (12,500), Morant Bay (11,100), Hayes (9,800) and Ocho Rios (9,600).

Transport: 

There are 22,120 km of roads, more than 70 per cent paved. There is no railway.

Main ports are Kingston, with dedicated wharves for bulk cargoes of petroleum, flour, cement, gypsum and lumber, and Montego Bay in the north-west; and the international airports are Norman Manley International, 17 km south-east of Kingston, and Montego Bay International, 3 km north of the city.

International relations: 

Jamaica is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Association of Caribbean States, Caribbean Community, Non-Aligned Movement, Organization of American States, United Nations and World Trade Organization.

Jamaica hosts the headquarters of the International Seabed Authority, the autonomous international organisation established in 1994 under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Topography: 

Jamaica is the ridge of a submerged mountain range. The land rises to 2,256 metres at Blue Mountain Peak. The coastline is indented, with many good natural bays. Fine sandy beaches occur on the north and west coasts. Small fast-flowing rivers, prone to flash flooding, run in forested gullies.

Climate: 

Tropical at the coast (22–34°C), with fresh sea breezes; markedly cooler in the mountains. Rainfall ranges from 1,500 mm p.a. in Kingston to 3,850 mm p.a. in Port Antonio. Jamaica lies in the hurricane zone.

Environment: 

The most significant environmental issues are deforestation; pollution of coastal waters by industrial waste, sewage and oil spills; damage to coral reefs; and air pollution in Kingston due to vehicle emissions.

Vegetation: 

Jamaica’s luxuriant tropical and, at higher altitude, subtropical vegetation is probably the richest in the region. There are more than 3,000 flowering species, including 194 orchid species, several cactus species, of which seven are unique to Jamaica, and 12 native palm species. Forest covers 31 per cent of the total land area, having declined at 0.1 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Arable land comprises 11 per cent and permanent cropland nine per cent of the total land area.

Wildlife: 

Fauna include 30 bat species. There is also a rich variety of birdlife (of some 75 species recorded, ten were threatened with extinction in 2012), turtles, non-poisonous snakes, lizards, crocodiles, 14 kinds of butterfly unique to Jamaica, and many moths and fireflies. Manatees live in the coastal waters. There are about 500 species of landshell, many of which are unique to Jamaica.

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