Failing the flood victims
The protest may have been relatively small, but it marked a new low in the failure of a State agency to provide service to distressed citizens. On Sunday, flood victims from Diego Martin took to the main road with placards to highlight the failure of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) to render timely assistance after floodwaters had devastated their homes following heavy rains. A total of 105 families through various parts of Diego Martin were affected by the flood after the Diego Martin River broke its banks during the early hours of Friday.
Not for the first time, the ODPM demonstrated its lack of preparation for flooding and its deficient management once floods have come. It is true that the combined efforts of various State and private agencies have made the responses more visible, but comments from the residents point to a situation where assistance may not be properly coordinated or rapid enough. While the main roadways were cleared within a reasonable time-frame, persons already upset by the damage to their homes and property became frustrated to the extent that they felt only a public demonstration would get the authorities to hear their pleas – as proved to be the case. But why should any citizens have to go to these lengths to get help?
After all, it was exactly 13 months ago that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared Diego Martin a “disaster area” in the wake of even more devastating floods. Back then, officials estimated a $100 million bill to deal with the damage. If that money was indeed spent in the past year, the expenditure appears to have had little effect. It therefore seems clear that those charged with responding to these situations need to become more proactive, not least because preparation will help make cure more effective.
Understandably, this is not a situation where there can be any quick fix. But that is not the challenge facing the ODPM, since flooding solutions are the responsibility of the Works Ministry. However, the agency seems to always be caught by surprise when flooding occurs and, in what almost seems a parody of bolting the stable door after the horse has been carried away, made bold yesterday to issue an advisory to citizens on actions to take in case of flooding.
But simply liaising with the Meteorological Office – or just checking their forecasts – should provide ample time for the ODPM and the Regional Corporations and the Defence Force personnel to issue warnings and put measures in place to help citizens if flash flooding predictions come true. Unfortunately, it does not appear that anybody in authority has standard protocols in place to deal with these annual disasters.