Sat | Sep 23, 2023

Not a simple task - Arscott says process to relocate river bank dwellers could go beyond this hurricane season

Published:Monday | June 8, 2015 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
A view from the Gordon Town Road of houses that are dangerously perched on the banks of the Hope River in St Andrew.
A resident of the Kintyre community in St Andrew makes her way through the Hope River to another section of the community where houses are constructed on the banks of the Hope River.
Even the houses that are made of concrete, as this one in Kintyre, are almost in the path of the river.
Dangerous living.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's instructions that persons living on river banks must be removed might not be fully executed during this hurricane season, Local Government Minister Noel Arscott has indicated.

Simpson Miller, who was addressing a meeting of the National Disaster Committee at Jamaica House recently, instructed the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development to begin the process of removing people who live near or on riverbanks. She said the practice was dangerous and requires immediate action by the authorities.

The hurricane season began on June 1 and will end on November 30.

In an interview with The Gleaner earlier this week, the minister said but a series of consultations, which began on Tuesday at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), would guide how the process is executed.

"Based on our objectives - finding alternative locations for persons, identifying the vulnerable areas and actually removing persons - I am not sure that this will be completed during the hurricane season," he said.

"We will start the process and issue the notices, but I am almost sure it will take much longer to actually execute the process, depending on how many communities we have identified and other details," Arscott told The Gleaner.



The minister also noted that climate change has affected the demographics of many areas, and as such, a lot has to be considered.

"We will be meeting with ODPEM ... and the relevant authorities to work out exactly how the process will be executed, because we will have to carefully examine the communities and their needs and act accordingly," he said.

"We will also have to carefully look at aspects of climate change, because due to the phenomenon, you find that communities that weren't vulnerable areas are slowly becoming places of concern, and so the decisions will have to be made on a community-by-community basis," he said.



Dr Parris Lyew Ayee, director of the Mona GeoInformatics Institute at the University of the West Indies, said while he applauds the move, he is urging the relevant authorities to apply wisdom and move quickly.

"A river bank, by definition, is a depositional environment. This is where stuff gets laid down. In the case of a storm, more stuff and bigger things are coming down, and so you don't want to be on a river bank. Building on river banks is extremely dangerous. It's a dynamic environment," he explained.

"The process of actually removing these persons should be executed with sense. You need to know what you are executing, as well as guide people as to where they should not build. There's a difference between removing people who are already on the banks and stopping people from even thinking about it, which means it must be carefully done," he said.

Lyew Ayee added: "Models have been done on several areas, including Hope River (St Andrew), Rio Cobre (St Catherine), Rio Minho (Clarendon), Rio Grande (Portland), that shows the flood plain extent and these show where the river is likely to overrun its banks, and so persons can be guided accordingly."