Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Environment hazards and poor drainage the culprits

Published:Tuesday | March 8, 2016 | 3:00 AM
Workers employed to the National Works agency clear the south gully of accumulated silt in the aftermath of the recent flood rains in Montego Bay.

Although the authorities have long identified the root causes of the perennial flooding, which has been impacting sections of St. James and Hanover over the year, the causative environmental hazards are still in place and in some cases has even worsened.

Two Fridays ago, the scenic Lucea harbour was transformed into a muddy brown colour, as heavy rains, which poured in the southern parts of the parish resulted in the Lucea East and the Lucea West rivers, which flow into the bay, becoming overcharged with silt and other debris. In St James, the city of Montego Bay, also took a battering as water levels rose to more than two feet deep in some of the main commercial areas.

In the case of the situation with the Lucea harbour, one prominent Hanover based farmer thinks poor farming practices, which is having a debilitating effect on the lands in the farming areas, are to be blamed.

"The topography is very sloping and some of the methods that the farmers employ in terms of land preparation is a no-no," says Ray Kerr, vice president of the Clifton/Mt.Peace Farmers Group. "For example, farmers use slash and burning and there is a lack of terracing and inadequate trenching too. They just clear-cut and then plough and make yam hills and so forth and when the rain falls all of that top soil is at the mercy of the runoff."

"Deforestation is also an issue, and most of the tributaries that feed Lucea West River are coming off a steep incline," continued Kerr. "In terms of the geological formation of the area, most of the rocks are shale and when you have long periods of dry and the heavy rains come this massive erosion happens. They are easy to break down under heat and pressure, so khus-khus grass could be planted to prevent erosion."

As far back as 2001, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) in a damage assessment report of the heavy rains, which occurred between December 29, 2000 and January 4, 2001, noted that St. James and some other northern parishes had been impacted by unplanned housing "and an inadequate or lack of drainage, especially on the sides of roads and construction on unstable slopes."

"The severity of the hazardous incidences could have been reduced by the maintenance of the network of drains and culverts in the parishes ... Drains need to be maintained to reduce the effect of flooding ... Poor construction and inadequate design specifications have also contributed to the flooding," the ODPEM report stated.

"The most beneficial mitigation measure that could be initiated is the relocation of squatters," the report continued. "Vulnerability and risk assessments should be carried out in these squatter areas. If the areas are found to be hazardous prone areas, plans should be put in place to relocate them to places that are habitable ... it is the responsibility of the government to maintain public infrastructures. The government needs to discourage persons from settling in hazardous prone areas."

The ODPEM also pointed to the removal of vegetation in communities such as Norwood, in St. James, during urbanisation, and the use of asphalt and concrete for surfacing as preventing water from sinking into the ground, due to their impermeability, as another militating factor.

"The construction of roofs, roads and other paved areas, therefore increases in the amount of runoff and runoff rate," the agency observed. "Urbanisation therefore shortens lag time and increases peak discharge, thus increasing the severity of flooding. This shortens the lag time and increases peak discharge of the stream which means that a greater volume of water runs off faster, increasing the risk of flooding. If the lag time becomes very short, especially dangerous flash floods may result."