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Citizens need flood mitigation education

Published: 
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Ravinoranath Ramasar sits in a hammock in his home still under flood waters at his home in Silver Stream Road, Fyzabad yesterday.

Weeks after the passage of Tropical Storm Bret, it is sad to be reporting that there are still some areas of Trinidad which remain under flood waters. Not all of the areas are in this predicament for the same reason, but ultimately it would appear that the same type of situations have led to these conditions—a combination of man-made behaviour and lack of proper maintenance of infrastructure and monitoring of various areas by the authorities charged with the responsibility.

How else do we explain how areas like Fyzabad, Point Fortin, Mon Desir, Dow Village and Rousillac remain under water, in some cases up to four feet high, although there has been no significant rainfall in recent days in their communities? While some of the areas identified are known to be flood prone, some are not, while residents in areas so inclined are also claiming they have never seen such flooding in the communities in their lifetimes.

At least one of the issues identified as a factor in the flood damage of the St Ann’s community recently, for example, was the illegal cutting of land by developers. The damage there was caused long after Bret had passed and Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan, after being inundated with calls and reports of the illegal activity being responsible for flooding in some areas, is promising to implement stiffer penalties to perpetrators of such acts for the devastation they are opening citizens up to across the country.

Mr Sinanan has told this newspaper that 75 per cent of the flooding that has followed since the passage of Bret was man-made, mostly through illegal construction and indiscriminate dumping of rubbish. In the case of St Ann’s, Mr Sinanan noted that this was indeed the direct result of a developer who cut into the hills. Furthermore, it would appear there was no approval for the activity in the first place. As a result, the minister said they “will have to look at the legislation to ensure people desist from interfering with watercourses because you cannot easily get approval to do any work there.”

The minister also said he is considering a ban on plastic, given the plethora of plastic bottles and Styrofoam which washed down in flood waters and blocked waterways in recent weeks.

When last this newspaper checked, there are already laws which exist regarding the treatment of individuals who put up illegal structures and cut or clear land illegally, as well as laws against those who litter. Surely then, Mr Sinanan really needs to look into why the bodies charged with the responsibility for monitoring such activities have not been functioning properly. It is this same lack of monitoring which led to several individuals cutting the banks of the Caroni River to create ponds for agricultural use and to cart away the dirt to sell for profit. This activity has led to the deterioration of the flooding embankments along the river and is now causing flooding in areas not so prone previously.

The issue of monitoring in fact comes up time and again in the conversation on natural disasters and flooding in particular. This is because at least some of the activity going on since Bret’s passage should have come months in anticipation of a hurricane season which the meteorologists have predicted will be one of the busiest. However, because the various agencies—including Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management, regional corporations, city corporations and T&TEC to name a few—never apparently send out their agents into the field to do the surveillance so as to mitigate against impending dangers, so we are always left scampering to do rehabilitative works after the damage has been done.

But somewhere along the line Mr Sinanan and some of his colleagues in other ministries and state bodies also need to focus on an education programme for citizens, since the man-made aspect of the flooding phenomenon is what really continues to create the flooding woes we continue to experience.

During the recent flooding woes several videos were posted on social media of citizens throwing garbage into the swollen waterways. Indeed, in spite of all the damage which these individuals saw going on in parts of the country, they still found it prudent to dump their waste into the raging watercourses, apparently oblivious to the fact that even if the debris were carried miles away from their own homes it could do major damage elsewhere. Of course, it is always a mindless self-serving act of this nature which creates the flooding problems in the first place. And until the authorities charged with mitigating against natural disasters can educate the people, or they themselves realise they are hurting themselves by such activity, no amount of legislation or penalties for infractions will prevent them from perpetuating such acts. We are indeed our own worst enemies at the moment but the solution is still in our hands.

The issue of monitoring in fact comes up time and again in the conversation on natural disasters and flooding in particular.