Wednesday 10th August, 2005



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Mitigating flooding

By Prakash Persad

[email protected]

The increased severity of flooding in flood-prone areas and the incidence of it in locations not known to be susceptible must serve as a wake-up call to review our physical development strategies. That is if we want to reduce the inconvenience and cost.

There is no doubt that the weather patterns are changing. But whether it is due to natural cyclic variability or global warming, one thing is clear. The drainage systems need to be improved.

Rivers serve as the natural and main channels for carrying rain water to the sea. Thus, they must be connected to the runoff systems of housing, commercial and industrial developments. This, however, is not the case in many instances.

A casual inspection of new and established settlements would reveal that little or no attention is given to the issue of runoff water. It is as if the water will find its own course and will magically evaporate into thin air, in an attitude of benign consciousness.

In many established villages, the drainage system is totally inadequate where it does in fact exist. In these places, it is as if an integrated infrastructure strategy has evolved. The roadways double-up as the drains. The resultant damage to already poor roads only serves to exacerbate the grief of commuters and users.

Poor and or inadequate/non-existent drainage also constitutes a significant health risk and hence it would be appropriate to embark upon an islandwide programme to rectify the defects in the drainage systems.

This programme must include the building of proper and adequate drains for the various villages and housing settlements, new and existing. Particular attention must be paid to the low-lying areas in South and Central Trinidad. Many of them evolved from informal living quarters in the sugar estates, without the benefit of formal planning.

The majority of the drains, if they can be called such, are really capable of carrying only an insignificant flow and furthermore are of the dirt variety.

One possible method to accelerate the building and construction programme, especially for the smaller villages in which the houses straddle the main road, might be to provide materials for the home-owners to dig and construct brick-lined drains to given specifications and under nominal supervision.

This can serve as a fillip to activate and develop community spirit, so sadly lacking in the country.

Simultaneously, a programme to interconnect these village drains to the larger drainage network must also be implemented.

To accommodate the effects of faster runoff due to the increasing amount of paved areas and unpredictability of the intensity of the rainfall, there is a definite need to construct holding ponds at strategic locations.

They are in use in several countries worldwide with low-lying areas, including Florida. They provide a practical and cost-effective solution. Additional advantage can be derived as they can be used for recreational activities and agriculture.

It is really a singular source of mystery that despite being proposed over the years, no serious attempt has been made to implement these hydraulic buffer reservoirs.

The mitigation of the flooding problem in Central Trinidad must involve, at some stage, a serious examination of the capacity of the cylinders used to channel the flow of the several rivers under the Solomon Hochoy Highway.

Whilst one hears, regularly, about plans to dredge upstream and, occasionally, downstream, simple flow dynamics will reveal that neither will impact much if the cylinders are inadequate to handle the volume flow. It is indeed passing strange that no mention is made of this.

To date, no comprehensive national plan for the mitigation of flooding has been on offer, despite the increasing severity of the problem. Several stopgap measures and ad-hoc programmes are started at periodic intervals. This is a reflection of our lack of maturity as a people and a country.

Consider the Dutch who have not only implemented an effective system of dykes but have also exported it to other countries, including our South American neighbour. South Florida was a huge swamp. Look at the developments there!

The peoples of developed countries have the capacity and capability to not only build impressive high-rise buildings but also to engage in public works to mitigate the devastating effects of nature. This requires comprehensive analysis, effective planning and consistent implementation. In other words, the ability to solve the problems facing the citizenry.

Can we honestly say that we possess such focus and follow-through? I think not. We seem to suffer from a collective attention deficit syndrome. We temporarily focus, in a monkey-like fashion, on an endless sequence of cyclic issues. Never spending enough time, effort and energy on any one.

The national psyche is a fickle one. The staying power, a few days at most. No wonder then we continue to be plagued by the same problems on an annual basis.

To become a first world country, we need to undergo a metamorphosis. It starts with every individual. A commitment to assume responsibility for one’s progress, intolerance for incompetence, an insistence on value for money, diligence to duty and vigilance to issues of governance. All first rate and first world qualities.

First world countries are constituted of first world systems, peopled by those with first world attributes.

Prakash Persad is Chairman of Swaha Inc






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