Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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ODPM ready to handle floodings
With the possibility of four storms affecting T&T in this year’s hurricane season, CEO of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) Dr Stephen Ramroop says flooding is inevitable. He said agencies under the ODPM were better prepared this year, despite Point Fortin mayor Clyde Paul saying local government bodies were not equipped to respond to disasters. Scores of families in south and central Trinidad were left reeling by heavy winds and rains that uprooted trees and tore off roofs last Thursday. In an interview yesterday, Ramroop said the ODPM was mapping those areas where disasters had happened and was applying an internationally accepted system to improve its efforts.
He added: “In my opinion, I think we are much better ready than we were last year as a country. We really co-ordinate the activities of all the agencies that are supposed to be ready and in our opinion they have improved significantly since last year. “This is based on some of the drills we have had with them and some of the incidents we have had. “We are actually mapping those incidents and a number of internationally accepted metrics are being used where we mesh the performances of the agencies involved in these impacts. “We are satisfied that there has been some improvement but as you can imagine, there is always room for improvement.”
Following an assessment of the freak storm in Point Fortin, Paul said local government bodies lacked the training and resources to respond to emergencies. But Ramroop denied that, saying the regional corporations were ready and were able to make an assessment of last week’s incidents in four hours. He said: “They have to be and I think they are. As far as I am concerned, they are supposed to mobilise people. It’s all about mobilising people and if the local government authorities can't mobilise people who they deal with in the normal running of their business, then something is wrong. “We are quite happy that the disaster units came out and they did an assessment within three to four hours of the impact. In major countries in the world, that is remarkable.”
Responding to criticism by some residents that the ODPM was tardy in visiting their homes, Ramroop said: “If the population of T&T is expecting people to reach on their doorsteps within 15 minutes of an impact, then they are crazy. Not even in developed countries that is possible. “You have to declare a scene safe, then the first responders have to come out. The Fire Services have to make sure that nothing is going to kill anybody who is coming out because the other people, such as the disaster unit, cannot go into scenes that are evolving. “You can’t go into a flood and start assisting victims. You will have to wait, otherwise you yourself will be dead.”
Despite work being done to alleviate flooding woes, Ramroop said climate changes, coupled with land developments, would always have an adverse effect on drainage. A key part of mitigating flooding includes drainage maintenance, monitoring hillside developments, deforestation and garbage disposals. Those responsibilities lie with government bodies, but according to Ramroop, citizens have to play a big part in flood mitigation. He said: “It's really a combination of a lot of factors. Remember that the globe is experiencing climate change, so although you might have a dry rainy season, there will be periods of heavy rain. “If those periods of heavy rain have intense rainfall in one area, which is different because of the climatic conditions, then I will say a large portion of that water is due to the climate conditions. “It will happen and as I said, it is because of the local phenomena which is incorporated into the whole El Nino, La Nina effect. It is going to happen in all countries of the Caribbean.”
Ramroop added that local government bodies, such as Town and Country Planning, needed to ensure that homeowners and developers got approval before building or renovating. He noted: “If you have a title to your property, that is your land and therefore if you have garbage, your drains are being clogged and water is not able to exit... then you back up the drain and you will have dengue fever and other things. “Then it is not the Government but it is the people themselves who are causing floods. “Therefore, there is a long-term problem in term of whether we are ready? When we talk about readiness, readiness really starts in the homes with the householders and how they take care of their own environment. “There are a lot of new development in that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, even from the last ten years, have started,” Ramroop said.