Trevor Sudama writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
Not on a single occasion in the aftermath of the floods has a public official attempted to address the root causes of the problem, to outline a preventive strategy and to commit to a serious programme of mitigating measures for the short and longer term.
Perhaps the conditions of life of flood victims do not matter. In this country of the nine-day wonder, politicians and public officials are fully aware that its citizens have short memories and are easily distracted.
A month or two from now, the floods and trauma associated with them will be forgotten until the next occurrence of flooding when there will be a repeat of the expressions of distress and impotence, public relations gimmicks, affected empathy, the indifference of public officials and the disorganised and inadequate relief efforts.
The unwillingness or inability of thousands of affected citizens to mobilise and demand a programme of mitigation and prevention reveals a great deal about the attitude of resignation among the long-suffering in the society. There are measures which can be put into effect in the very short term which will not require any significant degree of additional funding but a redirection of existing non-priority allocations and redeployment of human resources. For the longer term a more significant volume of development funds over a number of years will have to be sourced which could be availed of with an approach to multilateral lending institutions. I am not a water management expert nor a hydraulic engineer but I do not think that flood control and preventive measures demand the engagement of rocket science. It is just that the authorities have a skewed sense of priorities.
Over the years, I have repeated my suggestions for a more permanent solution and will reiterate them for the last time. Among measures required is an updated national drainage and water management plan which takes into account new housing and infrastructural development. Such a plan would assess existing drainage systems and capacity, the natural flow of water and the viability of embankments. It will also identify watercourses for widening or alteration, the need for the construction of new water channels, strategic locations for water retention reservoirs and pumping facilities to manage water levels in critical areas.
As regards the construction of water retention reservoirs, economic benefits will include creation of employment, engagement of equipment currently idle which will not require foreign exchange expenditure, a ready source of water for treatment for domestic, agricultural and industrial uses, as well as for aquaculture and recreation.
The other major suggestion made was for the establishment of a watercourses management authority which will have the responsibility for the execution of the drainage and water management plan, for the maintenance and improvement of all watercourses in the country, whether major or minor, and for demarcating and protecting watercourse reserves. The authority will be mandated to liaise with other agencies as necessary. I outlined the rationale and mandate for such an authority:
“It will be empowered to take legal action where and when necessary… will bring an end to the time-consuming jurisdictional disputes as to which Government organisation has responsibility for which watercourse. It would also enable an overview of the connectivity and relationship between and among watercourses in a comprehensive flood control and maintenance regime.” (Newsday 11/8/14)
While an updated national drainage and water management plan is developed and a watercourses management authority established, there are a number of activities which can be undertaken immediately to bring flooding under some measure of control, such as embarking on a systematic programme of cleaning and dredging existing watercourses, ending the denudation of hillsides, reafforestation and enforcement of the law with regard to garbage disposal, obstruction and littering of watercourses and encroachment of watercourse reserve.