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Somerset fights to stop landslides

Published:Saturday | March 5, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Shernette Francis points out something to Vernon Logan while standing atop one of five check dams built by members of the Somerset Community Development Committee during a project funded jointly by the European Union and Christian AID. Under a project being funded by the Forest Conservation Fund, the group will build an additional six check dams, reforest 10 hectares of denuded hillside and train farmers in sustainable husbandry practices. - Photos by Christopher Serju
Having to live with constant land slippage for years, residents of Somerset have developed strategies to cope with this ongoing threat.
A section of the denuded hillside that is targeted for a reforestation plan which will see some 10 hectares of land being replanted.

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

SOMERSET, St Thomas:

SOME RUSTING zinc sheets and section of a concrete wall are the only visible remains of a dwelling house that was lost during one of the land slippages that are a feature of everyday life in Somerset, St Thomas.

Driving through the community one encounters blockages, where the roadway is reduced to single-lane traffic by mounds of earth. Upon enquiring, residents advise that this is another result of the ongoing land slippage in an area, where most of the farming takes place on hillsides. Even as they dread the long periods of drought, people here live in fear of torrential rains that punctuate the dry spells with devastating consequences.

To date, no one has been killed or seriously injured in any of the landslides which have claimed property. Vernon Logan recalls that there was a period in the 1970s when this natural disaster claimed a number of properties. Now, based on their location, some 15 homes that house an estimated 50 persons are under threat of destruction from landslides. There is no comfort in the knowledge that a church, the only designated official shelter, which would be activated in the event of a natural disaster, is also in the line of fire.

Residents of this rural community are very worried about the potential danger but instead of being paralysed by fear, they are taking steps to address the situation. With funding from the Forest Conservation Fund (FCF) and guidance of the Women's Resource Organisation Centre (WROC), they are preparing to build six check dams at strategic locations along the hillside. In addition, there are plans to train at least 100 farmers in a number of a sustainable cultivation practices, which take into consideration and incorporate the hilly terrain, with the aim of preserving the valuable topsoil, even while maximising crop return.

Mitigation measures

The project to be undertaken by the Somerset Community Development Committee will include the reforestation of 10 hectares (25 acres) of neighbouring forest, to complement the impact of the check dams, which will check the run-off of topsoil and stem the flow of rainwater.

Funded by the FCF for at least $20 million, the project will be implemented over three years. The agreement to this effect was signed on July 5, 2009 and will end on July 4, 2013.

Programme coordinator Lehome Johnson explained that project management and implementation is in the hands of WROC that has already hired community mobilisers and a project coordinator who will be directly responsible for the day-to-day operations.

"They will be responsible for setting up meetings, constructing the check dams, getting seedlings, having farmers' training days. They are directly responsible for that, while we provide the financial and overall monitoring to ensure that all the funds are being spent in accordance with the approved project budget and is going according to the plan that was also approved," said Johnson.

The money will be disbursed in quarterly tranches over the life of the project that is set to get under way officially, as the world prepares to celebrate International Year of the Forest. The residents of Somerset are taking things into their hands, and starting to effect the changes that will positively impact the community for generations to come.