Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Garth Rattray | Is construction causing perennial flooding?

Published:Monday | May 29, 2017 | 5:00 AM

Every time weather disturbances cross our island, there are extremes of flooding, loss of property and severe damage to our infrastructure. Sadly, sometimes they result in loss of lives. Anecdotally, the effects of heavy or sustained showers are becoming progressively worse. I can't recall such distress, displacement and marooned communities in the not-too-distant past. Ostensibly, we are doing something wrong. We can't blame it all on Mother Nature and global warming.

We need to become proactive and stop talking about it ad nauseum and ad infinitum. It appears to me that we are only improving our ability to respond to these situations and are doing little in the way of preventing them from occurring.

With the extensive construction of businesses, shopping centres, town houses, residential communities and highways, we have significantly altered the topography and natural drainage of our country. Communities hitherto spared extreme flooding are all but totally submerged during any deluge, and those that were always at risk become disaster zones.

I've been wondering if there has been any recent islandwide topographical survey aimed at remapping the new high and low areas and, therefore, identifying flood-prone communities. I believe that they are now using laser to do that sort of thing, so it should not be prohibitive.

Once the flood-prone areas are mapped, engineers could carry out corrective measures (new drains, storm water drainage holes under obstructed highways, relocating people) to prevent repeated 'natural disasters'.

I know that drains are periodically assessed and only occasionally cleaned or cleared. Obviously, the main limiting factor here is financing. However, I feel confident that if someone were to compare the cost of drainage maintenance with that of repairing collapsed roadways and assisting flooded-out communities, it would be less expensive to embark on a more regular drainage maintenance programme.

 

REDUCE NASTY HABITS

 

Inherent in any programme to keep drains, culverts, gullies clear is the urgent need to reduce the nasty habits of littering and illegal dumping of garbage. In spite of all the publicity regarding drain obstruction with garbage, in spite of all the public education efforts, I have not noticed any reduction in flagrant littering on the streets by pedestrians and the motoring public.

I have seen all sorts of people and even uniformed schoolchildren deposit plastic bags and other refuse while walking on the streets. I have seen people fling out empty food and drink containers from 'krissas' like Mercedes-Benz sport cars and Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs - in other words, from vehicles with people who certainly know much better. As for regular private motor cars, taxis, minibuses and JUTC buses, refuse come flying out of them quite often. But by far my most shocking experience occurred one Sunday morning as I drove through Spanish Town. A very large garbage truck approached me from the opposite direction. The front-seat passenger had just finished eating his breakfast. He crumpled up the plastic wrapper and the styrofoam container and tossed them right out his window! It was a poignant moment that demonstrated remarkable ignorance.

We will never have enough personnel to police littering, so perhaps the powers that be could incentivise communities to keep their drains clean by publicising their good efforts and awarding some sort of prize, monetary or otherwise, that can benefit them and be enjoyed by the citizens that live there. As for the general streets, we need to encourage members of the constabulary to increase their vigilance for littering.

I noted that during his tour of flood-affected communities, the prime minister made the point that citizens need to act responsibly when constructing and avoid dangerous areas. That's perfectly true, but the Government must ensure that the regulations and laws are adhered to.

People continue to build anywhere. I even know of individuals commandeering an entire stretch of a sidewalk to construct illegal roadside shops, endangering pedestrians, obstructing drainage and destroying the adjacent roadway. This didn't go up magically or overnight, and it's not in some remote community way off the beaten path; it's easily seen from a nearby major thoroughfare, yet it remains undisturbed and entrenched.

The authorities have consistently failed to demonstrate efficiency, consistency, responsibility and accountability. Consequently, we all suffer in one way or another. This is untenable.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.