Friday, February 23, 2018

Identify and fix flood factors


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Even as the clean-up efforts and assistance continue, a cogent analysis of the causes of last weekend's disastrous floods must be undertaken. One explanation already gaining credence is unregulated land use, whether from housing developments or from cutting trees. In fact, eight years ago, then-prime minister Patrick Manning in his Budget presentation had stated that "poorly-engineered and poorly-constructed land and building developments" were causing floods in previously safe areas. But this assertion was never followed up with any action against those contractors who were almost certainly flouting building codes and Town and Country regulations. Nor, to judge from the extent of the floods last Saturday in north-east Trinidad, did the Local Government bodies do their part to alleviate the problem.

In a post on an Internet chat group, former works minister and Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert noted that he had recently issued a warning in Parliament about the failure to clear drains and rivers in his constituency. Mr Imbert, who himself failed as works minister to regulate construction projects that exacerbated flooding, may have been on the button. But drains clogged by rubbish was probably only one of several factors behind the disaster.

Many residents who were affected noted that, while flooding has happened before, the scale and intensity have worsened. This change has occurred over periods ranging from five to 20 years. Since the rainfall patterns over Trinidad have not changed significantly over this period, it seems likely that man rather than Nature is responsible for the problem. Indeed, it is noteworthy that flooding problems now more affect the northern part of Trinidad rather than, as had been the case for decades, the central areas. That change happened because of focused projects, particularly dredging of key waterways, started under Mr Imbert's tenure.

It appears that the north floods pose a different kind of challenge. But identifying man-made causes is the easy part doing something about them is the crux of the matter. Assuming that unregulated development is one cause, then the Government has to take action against the irresponsible individuals and companies, who should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Residents can point to particular developers who have denuded the hillsides for their construction, so tracking down these individuals should not be difficult. If, however, it turns out that the contractors haven't broken any laws, then the regulations need to be updated. In that regard, the Government must also identify those State agencies and officials who, through neglect, facilitated the devastation that resulted in two lives being lost.

All this, however, is still speculation. What is not speculative is that this situation will only worsen unless strong action is taken.