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Prevention may have saved these properties

Monday, March 5, 2018

It was reported on that the Prime Minister personally made a site visit to the affected area on March 1. He was quoted as saying, “In some cases, you just have to withdraw and if it is a cliff that is collapsing, you can’t hold up a cliff, you just have to withdraw from the area.”

I have to respectfully disagree with him that the coastal erosion at Cedros could not have been mitigated. As a geologist the Prime Minister no doubt understands the vulnerability of the formations in that area, but I suspect he is neither qualified nor experienced to go from the problem definition to examining technical options for feasible engineering solutions.

In simple terms, one does not have to “hold up a cliff” that is being attacked at the toe (bottom of the cliff) by relentless wave energy. The standard engineering solution centres around dissipating the wave energy at the toe to prevent the undercutting of the “cliff” and thereby ameliorating the threat of a collapsing cliff. It was also reported that one resident has been living in the area for 47 years. This underscores the point that this was a progressive problem over a fairly long period of time, and engineering intervention even 10 years ago may have saved these properties.

The Coastal Protection Unit was established within the Ministry of Works and Transport (MOWT) since 2014 and possesses the technical capacity to assess, prioritise and implement coastal protection projects, as they have been doing. The problem as usual, is the lack of funds to do more to fulfil their mandate to “deliver short, medium and long-term sustainable solutions to protect vulnerable communities from coastal erosion.”

This is where government policies continue to fail us over the years, irrespective of political party in power. With no feasibility study carried out for the Toco Port and upgrade of the Valencia to Toco Road, one does have to question if the monies allocated for that project can be more useful in preserving more of our receding coastlines. This is a simple exercise in prioritisation within the constraints of limited available funds, devoid of concern for political branding of mega projects.

Similarly, landslides on Lady Young Road are also preventable if there are routine inspections by experienced technical people with pro-active follow-up by the MOWT. Cleaning up with contractors’ equipment after the event, based on emergency call-out rates, is an ongoing waste of taxpayers’ dollars, which is even more vexing if one factors the cost of downtime and stress to the travelling public.

Our elected officials in the highest offices are therefore well advised to invest more time in ensuring that government policies are more in sync with the needs of the population and allow this to dictate where public funds are expended; and how government agencies are to be held accountable.

F Khan,
St Augustine


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