Editorial

Break the cycle of failure, Prime Minister Holness

Monday, May 22, 2017

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Largely because politicians are constantly seeking to score political points, and perhaps also because much of what passes as socio-economic analysis is superficial at best, the centrality of weather in Jamaica's economic fortunes is often ignored.Yet, droughts, floods, tropical storms, hurricanes, et al, have always had devastating effects on Jamaican life at individual, community and national levels, in the process eating away at gross domestic product and undermining prospects for economic growth.

Historical records show that centuries before 'climate change' became a buzz phrase extremes of weather afflicted the Jamaican economy.

Older Jamaicans apart, the younger ones just now approaching maturity and adult awareness can relate to that experience, having witnessed the debilitating droughts of 2014/15, and now the destructive floods of recent days and weeks.

Guarding the physical environment has always been the best way to minimise the negative consequences of such weather extremes.

Sadly, Jamaicans and their leaders have been very, very poor in that regard.

Heedless of the consequences, Jamaicans have continued to build in the middle of natural watercourses and on the banks of rivers, streams and gullies. They have continued to strip hillsides of vegetation and throw garbage into every available drain, etc.

Yet, when heavy, prolonged rain comes, as it did last week, and flood waters rush from denuded hills through homes, businesses and roads — often because they were built in the wrong place and because watercourses are no more, or are blocked — there is widespread crying and gnashing of teeth.

So now we hear from Prime Minister Andrew Holness, during a tour of flooded communities, that the Government will be moving to curtail the haphazard approach to human settlements — to make sure that people do not build where they shouldn't.

Said he: “Where people choose to live will now have to take on greater scrutiny. Informal settlements, haphazard settlements, those things cannot be allowed to continue in our future. The cost of it is just too much; and it's not just the cost in the infrastructure but it is the cost in lives.

“The Government has already formed the view and we will now try to put that into policy to take a far more proactive approach to how we deal with settlement of our land and where people choose to live. It is instructive that the areas that we've toured so far and areas that we've seen are areas that are close to riverbanks.

“Greater effort should be taken to ensure that the rules are enforced as it relates to where people are allowed to live, and the Government has to be far more proactive in ensuring that people do not settle in areas that we know they are at potential risk and are vulnerable.”

That's all well and good. We can't fault the prime minister for his words. The trouble is that Jamaicans have heard all this before from their leaders over a period of many decades.

Soon the flood passes, the water retreats, and all is forgotten, until the next flood. The environmental breaches continue, the squatter communities get bigger, and soon there is another disaster — and more words.

Mr Holness will have done his country a great service if this time he is able to break the cycle of failure which dogged his predecessors and make his words reality.

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