Trevor Sudama writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
It appears that only divine intervention could secure the residents of TT from the trauma of the recurring disastrous flooding which visits many parts of the country. It is not an intervention to build an ark to save Earth’s species as God is reputed to have instructed Noah to do. It is divine intervention to extricate the authorities from their sloth, indolence and indifference and to persuade them to address the flooding problem in an effective and sustainable manner since human appeal seems to have had no impact on them.
Such intervention is also needed to raise the consciousness of citizens as to their own responsibilities and to strengthen their sense of discipline, determination and focus to have the problem dealt with in a resolute and comprehensive way.
This responsibility includes not only their own commitment to observance of the laws and to the protection of the environment but also the need for unrelenting pressure on the authorities, both at the central and local levels, to take effective action and allocate the required resources.
Administrations come and go and the flooding problem persists with increasing severity. Let me reiterate that there will be some flooding in periods of extraordinary and continuous rainfall over many days but the effects of this can be mitigated by the construction of the necessary drainage and flood control infrastructure, by the ongoing monitoring and maintenance of watercourses, and by the robust enforcement of the relevant laws and regulations. In TT, however, flooding occurs even in periods of light to moderate rainfall.
In the aftermath of the floods, we are treated to the usual spectacle of extreme distress being experienced by affected residents, the confused and limited response of the local authorities and specific agencies, the nonchalant and dismissive attitude of central government, the blame game among different authorities and residents and the well-publicised but grossly inadequate relief efforts on the part of some private individuals, otherwise inert politicians and dysfunctional public authorities.
The first knee-jerk response of the authorities to the incidence of flooding is to place the blame on the Almighty and characterise the phenomenon as “acts of God” and therefore beyond the power of man to address. In the circumstances the only option for citizens is to endure and pray.
Some lay the blame squarely at the feet of residents who are deemed to have blocked watercourses with discarded household items. While there may be some incidence of this irresponsible behaviour, it cannot realistically account for the severity of the widespread flooding experienced.
In any event, it is the Government’s responsibility to engage in ongoing maintenance programmes which would clear the watercourses of such debris. The authorities could also address this problem by asking citizens to place bulky items outside their homes and have them removed on a periodic basis. They could also warn and bring charges against erring individuals.
Another reason advanced for flooding is the propensity of residents to build in flood-prone areas. When one looks at the topography of Trinidad, the plains of Caroni interspersed with rivers and tributaries stretch from the foothills of the Northern Range to the Central Range beyond which are the Naparima plains and the Oropouche River basin which accounts for a substantial portion of land area of the country. If people cannot build their homes and businesses in these areas, the question arises as to where else can they build.
While some homeowners and developers may have blocked or diverted a few watercourses and encroached on some watercourse reserves, such activity could hardly account for the severe and widespread inundation experienced.
The above reasons advanced for the continuous occurrence of flooding are really insubstantial and inconsequential and are merely pretexts for the studied indifference and inaction of public authorities and their grossly misguided sense of priorities.