FLOODING in Sangre Grande and its environs was the major concern raised during a public forum on coping with impact-related loss and accessing relief on Thursday.
The event was hosted by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) at the North Eastern College in Sangre Grande. It was part of the ODPM's National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Month activities.
Representatives from the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, National Commission for Self Help Ltd, and Red Cross made presentations.
The event was poorly attended by residents and comprised mostly of officials from the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation and the Cumuto/Manzanilla constituency office.
During the question-and-answer segment, Nirmal Singh, a field officer, Cumuto/Manzanilla, raised concerns over the safety of residents of Toco/Sangre Grande and Cumuto/Manzanilla and their properties.
Singh said the population in these two constituencies have exploded unchecked with several illegal developments and poorly planned developments.
He said this resulted in massive flooding becoming the norm as water courses have been interrupted. He cited instances of flooding last month, in November last year and the massive 2018 event.
"What we are doing right now is damage control," he told Newsday. "When we talk about grants then we are not being proactive. We would rather give you a cheque than deal with this in a permanent manner.
"Yes, a cheque might be something of interest but if you're constantly affected. There are persons in Sangre Grande from June 1 to November 30 (the hurricane season), they will be uncomfortable in their own homes. You're gonna have an application in ministry of social services every year?"
Singh also complained about the time it takes for social services to process relief cheques, saying some people were still waiting for their covid19 grants.
Anil Juteram, chairman, Sangre Grande Regional Corporation, told Newsday he was pleased that ODPM came to Sangre Grande to raise awareness of the amalgamation of state agencies which can deal with disasters. However, he said he would have liked to see representatives from the Town and Country division and Ministry of Works drainage division as they were responsible for causing the problems that the other state agencies have to respond to.
Katherine Badloo Doerga, director of drainage division, Ministry of Works was present on Thursday but was not an official speaker at the event.
Asked by Newsday what the ministry has done to prepare for the start of the rainy season, she said there were 121 desilting projects in east Trinidad.
She said there were also infrastructural projects where repairs to retaining walls at existing water courses were done.
She said where water courses have naturally diverted and affected people's homes, the ministry would try to rectify this.
Cumuto/Manzanilla MP Dr Rai Ragbir said east Trinidad usually gets the first blow from weather systems coming from the Atlantic and the region needs special attention.
Ministry of Social Development representative Patricia De Leon Henry presented the services offered by the ministry, the requirements for applicants and how to apply.
She said people need to be aware of what is available and how to fill forms correctly to ensure the process runs smoothly.
She said the ministry was mandated to address social challenges and citizens who have been affected by disaster can apply for assistance to cover damage to basic household items, up to $10,000, $550 in food support, a clothing grant of $1,000 per person and schools supplies grant.
She noted there is also a house repair grant (up to $20,000) for materials and sanitary plumbing assistance (up to $15,000 in materials only.) Applications can also be made online at grants.social.gov.tt/.
Margaret La Rose, a social worker, National Family Services, said disaster not only affects infrastructure but also puts a mental strain on affected individuals.
She said feeling overwhelmed was normal but urged people to not isolate themselves.
La Rose said how one reacts to a negative situation was important as depression can become a reality.
She gave tips to cope including meditation, breathing techniques, listening to soothing music, taking warm baths and using a journal.
She said recognising signs of depression was also crucial, including overeating, oversleeping, isolation and overspending.
She said the National Family Services has toll-free numbers for members of the public to call if they require psychological help or other assistance.
Red Cross representative Stephan Kishoor said the organisation seeks to assist the most vulnerable who might not be covered by state agencies. He said squatters and other vulnerable groups would fall into that category.
Steven Sam of the National Commission for Self Help also spoke.