Enforce building code
Thursday, August 23 2012
LAST week’s flooding in Diego Martin exposed for the umpteenth time the need to enforce laws already in place which have long conferred powers on the Town and Country Planning Division of the Ministry of Planning with respect to construction in hillside areas and indeed construction generally. Yet, despite clearly laid down provisions, permission has been granted in many instances for hillside construction of homes in contravention of regulations.
In addition, there have been instances of unplanned development, including not only houses and apartment buildings, but squatter settlements as well. In turn, the slashing and burning of hillsides by squatters for farming have added to the potential for disastrous floods, when during heavy rainfall, water comes rushing down hill slopes.
Compounding the problem has been indifferently cleared watercourses. The August 11 landslides, triggered by the heavy rainfall, brought with it tonnes of mud and slush. It was the second time in less than a year that this has occurred. While a national physical development plan and a national building code are already in place and which Government, in reality, is merely seeking to upgrade, what has been all too often absent in the past with respect to some of the highcost housing in Diego Martin was the firm application of the law. In turn, there have breaches of the law relating to watershed protection, whether or not the lands were State or privately owned.
This is in clear contradiction of the position laid down by Dr Eric Williams, then Prime Minister and Finance Minister in his 1978 Budget Speech delivered on December 2, 1977, that the Diego Martin Valley, Maracas Valley, Santa Cruz and St Joseph-Maracas Valley, watershed areas, among others, would be preserved for watershed protection. For far too long, successive administrations, whether People’s National Movement, National Alliance for Reconstruction, United National Congress or People’s Partnership, have been sidestepping the issues both of hillside development in particular and unplanned development in general.
The resultant financial costs in damages as well as the emotional costs to average citizens and businessmen/women when flooding occurs as a result of these issues have been tremendous. Yet despite this there has not appeared to be any improvement in thesituation over the years.
While the rainfall, heavy or otherwise, maybe construed as an Act of God, nevertheless the construction of homesand/or business places in areas which could lead to the effective blocking of watercourses and overburdening of hillsides and cause flooding is an Act of Man.
An act which is cynically dismissive of the rights and welfare of others. Despite repeated protestations by successive governments about their “responsibility for the environment” if there is one factor that points to unplanned hillside development and failure of the relevant authorities to clear the watercourses as the major reasons for flooding and the mud and slush is that the rainfall was said to have been not unusually heavy.
Had the level of rainfall been not unlike that of early December, 1985, when rain fell for four consecutive days and reached a level of 171 mm, then the Diego Martin Valley would have been several times the worse off than it was following on the showers two Saturdays ago. In the wake of the December, 1985 floods Caroni had been virtually isolated with some areas under several feet of water.