AFTER less than two hours of rain on Wednesday, South Quay in Port of Spain was completely flooded. The water backed all the way to Independence Square and down to the multi-billion-dollar waterfront. It was not the first time. And unless the State gets a handle of the situation, it will not be the last.
Flash flooding in the capital is nothing new, yet what happened this week surprised Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez.
“I was not expecting any rainfall to be so adverse that it would have filled the area,” the mayor said. “I will find out what caused that, if there is a blockage somewhere.”
The mayor’s reaction was particularly so because the drains at City Gate were recently upgraded to deal with overflow, and other drains were cleaned – all to prevent precisely this kind of situation.
Millions of dollars have been spent over decades and through successive governments on the problem of flooding in the city. And while the site of the capital has certain geological challenges, it’s hard to believe flooding is impossible to eliminate.
It’s definitely a problem that has serious consequences – to public health, to commerce, and to the safety of the population. It must be a matter of concern when after a couple hours’ rain the city becomes a watery underworld, its main artery to the east and south being cut off. What is going to happen when we get more than two hours of rain? When we have a feeder band from a hurricane? Or when the next major meteorological event happens?
Martinez noted reports of the role played by pollution, with people disposing of waste in drains, sometimes even under the cover of night. If we know of such activities, then we must take better steps to police them.
But how have past measures adopted worked? Has the retention pond which was installed a few years ago made a meaningful difference? And what of all the plans, which have been repeated over and over, for the installation of pumps? These pumps have been “coming” for quite some time. The authorities need to get on with their plans.
Dredging also plays a role and this is an exercise that must be constantly reviewed and repeated.
The deeper issue is the need for more rigorous urban planning, not only at the level of local government but at the national level to address high levels of run-off and to seek innovative and effective solutions that can be sustainable.
If the Ministry of Works and the city corporation are not able to get results, perhaps this matter is one that requires dedicated, specialist attention by a new state agency or an existing agency that manages urban development. Let’s get pumping.