Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Editorial | Another preventable death

Published:Saturday | May 28, 2016 | 5:00 AM

Every year, the lives of a number of Jamaican children are cut short either in violent circumstances or because of accidents. This week, 13-year-old St Thomas student, Brittanie Cole, was added to that damning list when she was swept away by floodwaters as she and two others attempted to make the 14-mile trek to her home in Dalvey.

Death caused by motor vehicle accidents, drowning and fires are largely preventable. Brittanie's death, sadly, demonstrates how the country's neglected infrastructure places a vulnerable segment of the population at grave risk.

And this deadly incident, happening mere days before the start of the Atlantic hurricane season, may be a foretaste of what is to come as the country braces for possible heightened weather activity. Bridges, roads, gullies and riverbeds are all in urgent need of attention if they are to withstand the likely onslaught from wind and rain.

While there may be little action that can be taken to prevent a river from overflowing its banks, for example, various measures that can be taken by the agencies of central and local government to improve warning systems and encourage greater compliance in order to reduce the risk of death and injury on the roads.

If media warnings are not reaching the majority, the authorities may consider other means of alerting citizens such as text messages or using the service of a town crier.

Once warnings are issued, citizens need to heed them. For example, a flash-flood alert means rising waters can be expected and persons should seek higher ground. St Thomas is one of those parishes with low water crossings and areas where the road traverses usually dry stream beds.

Within those stream beds, danger lurks, and when floods erupt, citizens, including those involved in providing public transport, should heed the warnings and not attempt to cross flooded bridges. Citizens should be fully compliant when these warnings are issued.

 

UNNECESSARY RISK-TAKING

 

Perhaps the time has come for disaster preparedness to be taught in schools as a compulsory subject so that children may apply basic safety rules and prevention strategies at home or while on the streets. Traditionally, many deaths associated with flooding are attributed to unnecessary risk-taking, which can be marked down to ignorance.

Education is the key to helping citizens understand the difference between a flood watch and flash flood warning and preparing them to act accordingly. Preparation and evacuation are important factors in mitigating the effects of floods and other disasters.

Various steps can be taken to manage floods. We, at this newspaper, are not experts in river engineering or flood-management techniques, but the expertise does exist. What we do know is that a relatively low-cost option to plant trees near to rivers will provide greater interception of rainwater and lower the river discharge.

So we ask this question: What will happen in the aftermath of Brittanie's death? Expressions of sympathy will not return her to the bosom of her family.

This will not be last of flooding in St Thomas. However, it should be the last time that a child is swept away by swirling floodwaters. Serious decisions need to be made to increase the country's flood resilience and to develop long-term infrastructure-upgrading systems to protect the people and economy from the ravages of nature.