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LETTER OF THE DAY - Invest in preventative measures

Published:Tuesday | April 13, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

In 2003, a major flood in the community of New River, St Elizabeth, resulted in a mass evacuation of almost 90 per cent of its residents. The years leading up to this disaster had similar aquatic scourges, and were a confirmation of New River's endemic flooding problem. Flooding in New River is an inevitable consequence of its geographic location - it is located in the wetlands of the Black River morass and is a catchment for precipitation rushing down the hillsides of Nassau, Santa Cruz and Don Figueroa mountains.

However, severe flooding of the area results from a lack of political commitment by elected MPs, the usual corruption and disorganisation of local commissions/agencies and an absence of inspired collectivism and social activism on the part of the community.

The New River residents seem to have lowered their expectations of the local government to a single desire: that the massive drains that run through the community are cleaned around mid-March when the rainy season begins. Around this time, the lives and security of the residents are placed on one side of a balancing-scale and the price, to hire a backhoe and a truck on the other side. The price to hire the backhoe and the truck frequently weigh more that the lives/livelihoods of the residents, so the drains are left clogged and people are left to hold their babies above flooded streets in frantic desperation to escape.

Some residents are lamenting that after paying their taxes the National Irrigation Commission has written to them demanding that they pay "drainage charges owed" to the commission. These are charges they cannot afford and should not be expected to pay! Who is responsible for cleaning these drains?

Clean the drains

Most residents of New River are small-scale and subsistence farmers. Therefore, they cannot adequately confront the consequences of severe flooding. Drain cleaning is not an ultimate preventative measure but will, nonetheless, significantly reduce flooding effects.

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management through its Building Disaster Resilient Communities programme and the local Social Development Commission are working collectively to create a Community Emergency Response Team in New River. While this is commendable, it is more pragmatic to invest in preventive measures at this time. The more proactively one addresses the core issues at hand the better. We cannot afford the consequences of policies built on the principle of 'reaction'. We must act swiftly to protect the residents of New River. Clean the drains! It is their only request.

I am, etc.,


Rex Nettleford Hall, UWI, Mona