A bridge over trouble...

Monday, February 04, 2013

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Most Jamaicans probably never knew of the existence of Orange Tree in St Thomas before reading of that community's plight in yesterday's Observer North & East.

Chances are, the individuals who represent Orange Tree in the Parliament and at the parish council have forgotten about the community, as its residents most likely hold little significance except when it is time to vote.

We are forced to that conclusion because of our story on the loss of a bridge that connects Orange Tree to the main road, thus allowing them access to services not available in their community. The bridge, residents told us, was damaged by a hurricane many years ago. However, their pleas to have it replaced have been ignored.

The result is that they have created a makeshift bridge using two wooden poles held in place by pieces of old board and balanced atop some stones in the Yallahs River.

To say that such a structure is unsafe is an understatement. What it really demonstrates, to a large degree, is the uncaring nature of political representation in this country.

For how can anyone claiming to have entered representational politics out of a desire to assist people, stand by and have their constituents, including children and the elderly, risk their lives daily on the rugged contraption that now spans the river?

Mr Noel Folkes, a resident of Orange Tree, perhaps summed it up best: Nobody is going to do anything about the bridge until, God forbid, someone loses their life trying to use the structure that is there now.

Mr Robert Pickersgill, the minister of water, land and climate change, who was in the community last week to view the Yallahs River rehabilitation work, has reportedly told the residents that he would look into the matter. They have expressed optimism that he will assist them.

Our optimism that he will actually be able to do something to remedy this danger is guarded, given the State's history of procrastination on such matters, as well as the fact that the Administration is strapped for cash.

Anyway, we will monitor his promise.

What we find particularly disconcerting is the fact that the condition that has resulted in Orange Tree's makeshift bridge is not unique to that community.

Across the island, there are many districts and towns with damaged or decaying infrastructure that not only make life extremely difficult for Jamaicans, but give the impression of backwardness in the country.

Bridges and parochial roads, in particular, seem to be the most neglected, despite acknowledgement by successive governments of the importance of an effective road network to accommodate ground transportation.

Anyone who doubts the value of such a network need only read Mr Folkes's account of the trauma he and his child's mother experienced when, during the passage of Hurricane Sandy last year, she went into labour.

With the river in spate, and the absence of a proper bridge, Mr Folkes said, he used a zipline, strung by the residents, to get to the main road from where he went to the police station for help. Eventually, a helicopter had to be used to transport the pregnant woman to hospital.

It needed not, however, have come to that. Simple, consistent maintenance of infrastructure would have spared Mr Folkes and his child's mother all that headache.

Simple, consistent maintenance of infrastructure will also indicate to people that the State has their best interest at heart.




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