Responding to wild weather

Paolo Kernahan
Paolo Kernahan


FOUR consecutive days of torrential showers wrecked the place. In the aftermath, while some were keen on doing an accounting of the State's conspicuous immobility, others opined that the bad weather and all it produced are happening all over the world.

The all-over-the-world argument has been the default response from government apologists since the smartphone was a pager. Crime, disasters, rising food prices, etc – they're all happening everywhere else. Of course, this banal observation doesn't add any new dimensions to discussions about our challenges.

But then, that's not the purpose of citing the universality of catastrophe; the goal is the absolution of the Government.

Lost in the conversation is the fact that while calamity and hard times befall other countries, governments in other jurisdictions don't just sit on their hands.

Another common post-flood axiom is this: "They choose to build in flood-prone areas!"

This is a myopic reference to Bamboo residents. In that case, people in Diego Martin, Maraval, St Augustine, Woodbrook, Port of Spain, Tunapuna, Mafeking, Chaguanas, Valsayn and Santa Cruz all settled in floodplains. The entire country is a "mang."

Yes, extreme weather patterns afflict many parts of the world. Many countries, though, have active mitigation strategies and aggressive measures for responding to and coping with the fallout of severe weather events.

Moreover, many countries have populations who will hold their leaders' feet to the fire to ensure that governance structures look after their interests. People elsewhere aren't just accepting that this is how it's going to be – a powder-dry position of luxury that can only be embraced by those not up to their waists and beyond in loss, destruction and hopelessness.

A few months ago Pakistan suffered some of the worst flooding in recorded history. Roughly 1,700 people were killed, millions were displaced and vast areas of the country were drowned – in some cases for several weeks. Some 13,000 kilometres of roads were washed away and more than 400 bridges were obliterated by flash flooding. The unprecedented destruction was attributed to a confluence of seasonal monsoon weather and conditions caused by climate change.

In response, the government of Pakistan and numerous agencies rolled out a three-pronged plan: emergency response and relief, early recovery and rehabilitation and reconstruction. Also mooted are plans for a large-scale reforestation project across the country.

Pakistan has a long road to rebuilding ahead. Just how well the government lives up to its commitment is a matter for the Pakistani people.

Natural disasters are unavoidable. How we anticipate them and respond to them is entirely within our control – or not.

The flooding experienced across TT recently was extreme. Conditions on the ground likely worsened the impacts of the persistent rain.

Completely unchecked illegal quarrying denudes hillsides, quickening the pace at which runoff enters rivers and streams. Unregulated hillside development magnifies that effect. Desilting of major watercourses is infrequent and is often seen to be done, albeit sparingly, after significant flooding events have already happened.

Toothless and laissez-faire state agencies turn their backs on illegal construction in which citizens build over drainage channels or tamper with hydrology to suit their purposes. In many urban areas drainage isn't updated to account for increased development. More rooftops are added to the landscape, increasing runoff into channels designed decades ago.

What was most striking about the recent weather event was the severe infrastructural damage it caused. Rural road networks crumbled like a currants roll.

This was no surprise to me, though. For several years, when I was producing television shows, I travelled extensively across the country. Driving through winding country roads can be dangerous. Get distracted for a second on these glorified tracks, many of which are perched atop a spine of dynamic earth, and you will (a) crash into a steel drum meant to signify land slippage, (b) run off the road where it simply falls away, or (c) crash into an oncoming vehicle dodging a cavernous depression.

Most of the existing rural road network sprang from ancient colonial agricultural access roads. In many instances, they're poorly constructed, with limited to no shoring-up in areas where the land is subject to movement. The nation is criss-crossed by permanent "temporary" roads. It's no surprise that these roads, which were already falling apart, caved in spectacularly, cutting off communities.

Man can't control the weather – at least, not yet. What we can do is manage our environment to ensure that the worst impacts of extreme weather are reduced.


"Responding to wild weather"

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