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Thursday, December 05, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Broken promises, unfinished work
More than a year has passed since devastating floods wreaked havoc in Diego Martin on August 11, 2012. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had declared the area a disaster zone after two hours of heavy rainfall claimed two lives, left others injured, destroyed several homes and caused other damage in several parts of west Trinidad.
One year later, there are mixed views from residents, officials at the Diego Martin Regional Corporation and Member of Parliament Dr Amery Browne about the work done to clear up and repair after that disaster and prevent a repeat.
The Sunday Guardian visited several areas in Diego Martin to look at the state of communities that had been hit by the floods. In many areas not much has changed. Drains leading to the Diego Martin River—which had overflowed and caused the floods—were either overgrown with bushes or clogged with plastic bottles and garbage. Rubble from collapsed walls were still stacked up in some homes. However, work was in progress in the Diego Martin river.
Last year, Persad-Bissessar toured the affected areas, hugged and shook hands with affected families and promised relief. A year later, many of them say they are unhappy because promises made to them have not been kept. When he was told about the unhappy residents, chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation Allan Sammy said they needed to be more resilient since cleaning could be done but when severe weather hits, there will be flooding.
Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne claimed the agencies involved had not being doing their jobs.
MP Browne: People continue to live in terror
It was the worst natural disaster in the lives of many of the people living in Diego Martin, Petit Valley and the western peninsula, said Browne. “There are still many people who are in distress,” he said, adding that many of the flood victims are still struggling to rebuild their homes and lives. “There are people whose walls collapsed, who required social assistance, help with replacing items and who have not gotten the assistance promised by a number of state agencies,” Browne told the Sunday Guardian.
“I, along with some of my colleagues have spent a lot of energy advocating the use of the last dry season in a strategic manner for a comprehensive system of cleaning of water courses, for improvement of infrastructure in certain key areas, so that if we get heavy rain, or when we get heavy rain in 2013, it will be less likely that the damage would be as severe.” Browne showed photographs of several areas with overgrown bushes which he said were neglected.
He said, “When they say they’ve cleaned all of these things...it’s just a fantasy. Sammy is saying we have done well. They are patting themselves on the back.” Browne s said resources were wasted and people needed to feel they were in a safer situation. He said whenever there is a little rainfall people cannot sleep and are worried.
The opposition MP said he has been out in the field gathering “evidence” on what he believes is complete neglect by the agencies who were paid by taxpayers to do infrastructural work. “People are terrified because they are seeing their drains not properly cleaned,” Browne said. “Some of the drains are completely overgrown. They are seeing the entry points for water into the Diego Martin river having not been modified as has been recommended by them and their representative.”
ODPM head: There’s room for improvement
CEO of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management Dr Stephen Ramroop said close to $85,000 had been spent on brochures and booklets for distribution to people living in high risk areas, including Diego Martin and environs. Despite this effort to inform and educate them about flooding and the necessary precautions, he said Diego Martin residents will continue to experience future flooding.
“What we have said to the residents is that they will experience floods in the future,” he said. “What will happen is that the roads will become the rivers, once the rains fall. There is no other way right now. “We have been telling the residents that the way their homes are built . . . you can’t prevent what is happening now. “They are in the natural watercourse of the waterflow and unless something is drastically done to collect the water in large reservoirs and then gradually pump it out into rivers, they will always experience flooding.”
Ramroop said the ODPM has been monitoring drainage works conducted by the Corporation and the ministry but there was still room for improvement. He said he was pleased with some of the work done. Ramroop said the ODPM in collaboration with the T&T Fire Service conducted evacuation drills at five schools in the area and residents are much better prepared to deal with flooding.
“Residents will always complain and it will be foolish to expect that people will not be angry because they built their homes there and didn’t expect that the number of buildings would have increased around them. “What has not improved with the development of land is the strategic development of drainage and urban and hillside development in the country and it was only last year after the flooding that the government put a limitation on the 300 feet mark that people can stop building.”
Sammy: Residents need top be more resilient
Sammy is of the view that while central and local governments have a part to play, so do the burgesses. He said burgesses need to play a more active role in keeping drains and waterways free from garbage. “The work that was done after the August 11, 2012 flooding hazard, what i did as the Incident Commander of the situation, I used the opportunity while we had all the manpower and equipment available to clear up as many of the waterways and underground drains that had not been cleared for like 20 years.”
Sammy said with all the rainfall that occurred up to August 10 this year, there were no problems and only about six streets reported flooding. “Germany saw floodss it hadn’t seen in like 500 years and that is because of the climate change we are seeing and the severe weather we are having.
“So we can clean all that we want to clean and hopefully our burgesses and others that may come from outside of our region who throw stuff in our waterways . . . we can do all the cleaning that we wish but if there is severe weather, you are going to have a measure of flooding.” He said the Corporation had conducted programmes to make burgesses more resilient because people have to be better prepared for natural disasters.
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