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Deal with cause of flooding

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Judging from the responses of many citizens with regard to the reasons for widespread flooding in the country recently, the recurring theme is that garbage disposal in watercourses is the cause. Such a view is both common and simplistic. It implies that the responsibility for preventing or alleviating flooding lies with the citizens and not with the central Government and local authorities. It further assumes that if there is a change in behaviour and people desist from throwing garbage in the watercourses, there will be no flooding. Apparently, such irresponsible dumping of garbage is the reason for flooding everywhere, including Port-of-Spain, the environs of the main river courses, in low lying areas, and on the highways.

Of course, disposal of garbage in watercourses is a contributory factor but what is the volume we are speaking of here. How many household items are so disposed of and with what frequency? Are there laws banning such practices and are offenders being prosecuted? Are Local Government authorities satisfactorily performing their function of retrieving and disposing of garbage and are they adequately facilitating the collection and disposal of garbage other than that picked up by the garbage trucks? If, indeed, there is garbage obstructing the watercourses, are not the Drainage Division and Local Government authorities responsible for clearing and desilting watercourses?

However, the reasons for severe flooding are far more fundamental than just the dumping of garbage in watercourses. Over the years, tremendous built development has taken place in this country and the run-off of surface water has increased significantly but our drainage infrastructure has not kept pace. Thus, drains and channels of modest capacity constructed decades ago to accommodate a limited volume of water are now required to carry a great deal more consequently over-spilling their banks and flooding the vicinity.

In addition, in recent years the effect of climate change has meant more unpredictable rainfall patterns of increasing frequency and intensity with larger volumes of surface water seeking outlets. Then, there is the low priority given both by Central and Local Government to watercourse maintenance and management and the required capital investment on infrastructure. The funding has been minuscule compared to that allotted for constructing highways and public buildings.

Apart from the rigorous enforcement of land development and building regulations and laws to protect the environment, what is required is a drainage plan to incorporate a more expansive drainage and flood control infrastructure with appropriate funding in order to provide a more durable longer term alleviation of the flooding menace. An implementation programme would include construction and maintenance of retention dams, sluice gates and embankments, the installation of heavy water pumps as well as significant watercourse diversion.

San Fernando


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