If Jamaica is ever to be seriously considered a just society...

If Jamaica is ever to be seriously considered a just society...

Monday, October 26, 2020

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Mrs Juliet Holness, Member of Parliament for St Andrew East Rural and wife of the Prime Minister Andrew Holness, is also a real estate professional. She knows where houses should or shouldn't be built.

Early in 2020, not long before COVID-19 became a major issue, Mrs Holness spoke out on the subject because of flooding in and around Ocean Lake in Bull Bay, eastern St Andrew.

Back then a pond had overflowed into yards and the road, overwhelming sewers and drains with water, even backing into bathrooms.

The problem identified by Mrs Holness at the time was that property owners shouldn't have built houses there in the first place.

Said she: “I would want to encourage all Jamaicans to also play a part in getting the necessary information and having the knowledge and education about the spaces in which they buy property in which they choose to live. Do the investigation so that you know what happens if it rains, you know what happens if a river is nearby. You also need to take a personal responsibility…”

Fast-forward to late last week: Mrs Holness was again addressing inappropriate construction in another area of her constituency, Shooter's Hill, St Andrew — this time in tragic circumstances.

As readers will be aware, a 42-year-old father, Mr Romeo Leachman, and his 15-year-old daughter died when a mudslide — triggered by heavy, persistent rain — destroyed and buried their humble house.

As is the case for much of eastern Jamaica, it seems the soil type and terrain at the scene of the tragedy are unsuited for housing and would have been better left for forestry and agriculture.

But, as outlined by Mrs Holness, poverty forced people to take up residence there on “captured land” many years ago.

Also, poverty hindered proper construction of houses as well as secure reinforcements to prevent land slippages such as led to the tragedy.

Mrs Holness pointed to the inadequacies of retaining walls, etc: “They are not built with the proper foundation, they don't have the right base, they are not built with the proper bottom, so they are weak walls. When you look at the soil type on my left, it is sandy hill; [and] on my right, it is marl mixed with clay, so it doesn't hold for a lot of the structures...”

So what's to be done?

It's obvious that for many people, such as those in the neighbourhood of last week's tragedy, there should be a comprehensive, long-term programme to drastically improve housing stock, and in some cases relocate.

It can't happen overnight. The resources just aren't there. But if Jamaica is ever to be seriously considered a just society, taking care of all its people, such a programme has to happen.

Crucially, too, at another level, the local authorities across the country need to start doing their jobs properly by stopping construction in unsuitable places, including wetlands and on steep, unstable hillsides.

All too often there is more than a hint of corruption involved.

Mrs Holness and others in high places with the knowledge, capacity, and will to get things done, should lead the charge for change.

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