Rain of terror, reign of error

BC Pires
BC Pires



TRINIDAD IS one big flood basin now. Even the mountains aren’t safe from the wettest rainy season anyone can remember, with retaining walls crumbling like wet Crix and spilling mud and flood into the upper levels of the fancy new Cocorite plannings. Whole houses are slipping down hillsides and the wonder is that it isn’t whole villages.

On Tuesday, the Caroni River burst its banks and flooded the southbound lanes of the Buzz, the Uriah Butler Highway, making it instantly impassable. Within minutes, not hours, of that traffic snarled as far west as Cocorite and as far east as Piarco Airport.

The Eastern Main Road became a long thin parking lot. Motorists were stuck unmoving at the traffic lights at the Port of Spain MovieTowne for close to four hours, with drivers counting the container trucks emerging from the port exit that blocked the intersections for 18 wheels and 20 minutes at a time.

St Helena Village could be renamed St Helena Lake. Mafeking is reportedly under nine feet of water. Two Cabinet ministers either brave or foolhardy enough to visit Bamboo Village No 2 would have been stoned, if villagers could only have found something to pelt under the water that had risen to their mid-thighs.

All over the heartbroken land, there was the sound of the weeping and the wailing and the gnashing of teeth.

But this happens every year (though admittedly not with the intensity of the last couple o’ months).

With global warming being ignored by the only people who can alleviate it (who are also the people most responsible for its effects), and with madmen in charge of powerfully aggressive countries, the world situation will worsen. Starving millions in Africa are not going to pressure their governments or warlords into reducing global temperatures, but only into getting Ukrainian wheat past the Sahara.

In Trinidad, the everyday suffering of the people least able to handle it will intensify. The language of distress will be plumbed to its very depths. Hard times will get even harder. The $10 doubles and the $5 tomato cannot be far away. Even the wealthiest of us will be forced into building retaining walls or retention ponds that will cost more than the structures they protect.

At every juncture, social bonds will be tested and may well rupture.

But none of this was unpredictable; indeed, most of it is the direct and unavoidable result of our own decisions. Yes, we would have had dreadful flooding this year, no matter what we did for the 50 years preceding it – but its effects would not have been remotely as devastating.

When my parents moved into their dream home almost half a century ago, our house was one of the highest in the Port of Spain hills. You could not get planning permission to build a dwelling house above the 350-foot contour line (apart from limited exceptional areas, like Lady Chancellor and Paramin).

Look up, today, at any part of the Northern Range “developers” have got their grubby hands on. The only things stopping enterprising exploiters from building skyscrapers on the summit of El Tucuche and El Cerro del Aripo are an access road and a bribable civil servant.

The farmers of Paramin have spent 50 years moving lower down the mountains, planting pigeon peas as they descend. And the real-estate “developers” have spent the same time moving up the mountains by figuring out how to hang multiple dwelling buildings on the face of a precipice. With astonishing successs. Whole mountainsides now have no trees on them.

Rains in my youth would take days to turn into floods because the rainforests covering the mountains would absorb rainfall for days; today, with so many Port of Spain mountainsides covered in massive concrete buildings, rain rolls down the hill at once. Rivers that took days or at least hours to come down do so now after just ten minutes of heavy rain.

None of this happened by accident, and not one of us protested, because we all reaped the short-term benefits, either from our sky-high galleries overlooking the Gulf or as the people who got jobs out of it.

The road to hell isn’t paved with good intentions. It’s the Mayaro Road. And it isn’t paved any more. It’s broken along its spine. Just like us.

BC Pires would be an alarmist if every bell in the place wasn’t ringing like a Baptist holiday. Read the full version of this column on Saturday at www.BCPires.com


"Rain of terror, reign of error"

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