Mon | Sep 28, 2020

Landslides averted in Somerset by residents

Published:Wednesday | October 13, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Residents in Somerset, St Thomas, working to complete one of four check dams under the EU/Christian Sustainable Livelihoods Project. The check dams were built as part of a disaster-management strategy to prevent landslides. - Contributed

Following last week's hammering rains and strong winds associated with Tropical Storm Nicole, residents in the Somerset community in St Thomas are in a much-improved position than previous rainy seasons.

Somerset has been the victim of severe landslides and flooding for a long time, evidenced by houses that remain covered by silt and debris, leaving only edges of the roofs as a sign that householders once lived there. However, now that four check dams have been built in the community, residents living in hillside areas fared well amid recent torrential rains.

As part of key activities under the European Union (EU)/Christian Aid Creating Sustainable Livelihoods Project, the check dams were constructed in the crevices of the mountainsides to prevent sand, silt and debris from coming down and covering various areas of the community.

Joscelyn Brown has lived in Somerset for several years and expressed gratitude for the check dams, noting that they made a big difference in the community's disaster-management efforts.

"While the rain was falling, we had flooding and land slippage and there was one house that had a little damage, and that was below one of the gullies that didn't have a check dam.

"But all the houses located in (the four) areas where the gullies had a check dam were kept safe. Nothing happened there," he explained, with relief.

This time around, residents in those areas only had to grapple with downed trees and power lines.

The construction of all four check dams was managed by the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre Limited (WROC), the implementing organisation under the EU/Christian Aid Creating Sustainable Livelihoods Project. Three of the dams were completed in 2009 and the fourth built alongside the March Pen gully was finished just a few weeks before Nicole's testy rains.

"(Usually) deposits from the March Pen gully go straight into the hurricane shelter and the individuals living above or below the shelter would be marooned stopping them from gaining access to it." Field officer at WROC, Nkrumah Green, explained.

"Anyone who is at the top stays at the top, and anyone at the bottom stays at the bottom," he remarked.

Timely construction

However, the rural community didn't meet that fate this time around, thanks to the timely construction of the check dams which received tremendous support from residents.

Green gives the community a thumbs-up for their volunteerism. Even the children were involved during the summer holidays. They helped to carry water and do other duties free of cost.

Somerset resident and member of the Project Steering Committee, Vernal Logan, added that as many as 18 residents volunteered to work on the check dams daily helping to "carry stones, and when the tractor come, we help load the tractor".

Overall, Logan is "feeling very good about the construction of the check dams" and the impact it will have in keeping Somerset safe.

As part of the steering committee's efforts, residents organised the collection of stones from the river, which were sold to the project for the erection of the dams. Some of the proceeds were, in turn, used to purchase back-to-school items for children in the community. Part of the proceeds will also be used to provide electrification for a container office that was provided under the project last year.

Besides building check dams, however, Green insisted that disaster management be done in a holistic way and reforestation must be part of the process to increase soil density thereby reducing the likelihood of landslides.

As a result, the EU/Christian Aid Creating Sustainable Livelihoods Project will oversee the planting of fruit trees in the area to ensure sustainability, as residents are expected to be less likely to cut down trees from which they can earn.