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MP says clearing of land to blame for St Mary flooding

Deforestation!

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor - special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, February 17, 2014    

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MEMBER of Parliament for Central St Mary Dr Morais Guy has attributed last month's flooding in the parish, for which damage has been estimated at $200 million, largely to deforestation and a related blocking of the natural drains.

To make his case, the MP pointed to the Otram and Pagee rivers which did not overflow their banks this time around, unlike an incident in 2012.

"Most of the damage that occurred did not occur in the flat; it occurred in the hills, which led us to presume that a lot of it has to do with deforestation and the fact that people are building without proper regard to re-establishing the natural plant growth and vegetation to allow for the water to be held," Guy told the Jamaica Observer North East in a recent interview.

"What is interesting is that only a small area of Port Maria got flooded, unlike previous incidents where the rivers themselves swelled. None of that happened this time," he explained.

He cited the example of Grants Town where a deluge came down from the hills.

"There were insufficient culverts to channel the water away so it dammed up and broke away that area," said Guy.

Added to that, the MP said, was the practice of people blocking the natural drainage in place to allow the water to flow.

In November 2012, one month after the passage of Hurricane Sandy which itself had left the town under water, heavy rains left sections of Port Maria and surrounding communities in waist-deep water.

Last month, sections of the parish capital, Galina and Oracabessa were again flooded as a result of heavy rains.

According to Guy, there is also another factor that is being investigated — the theory that the area lies on a natural fault line that extends through Preston Hill and into Highgate.

"So that also is being looked into as one of the possible reasons why we had that breakaway but the flooding, interestingly, and the damage as a result of the rainfall was up in the hills as opposed to traditionally in Port Maria," he said.

Given this pattern of flooding, Guy urged residents to be more conscious of their practices.

"We have a ministry that is responsible for climate change and there is a lot of publicity surrounding that, as to what people need to do, and so I know the Government has been and will be ramping up the level of community awareness about the need to have proper control of your environment and safety," Guy said.

The Government, he noted, will also be undertaking reforestation projects in the area.

Regarding the repairs, Dr Guy told the Observer North East that Cabinet has since granted approval for the $200 million to be disbursed.

"Cabinet has given approval for the expenditure of that funding, which was difficult to find, but it has been found and I can assure the residents that in short order the work will start on the breakaway that goes from Grants Town up into Mason Hall and the one from the other end and the roads will also be repaired," Guy explained, indicating that the funds were drafted from various unspent expenditure throughout the year.

Meanwhile, the MP said the residents who suffered damage this time around was fewer than those in the previous incidents. They were given temporary assistance by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the National Insurance Scheme and the Jamaica Red Cross.

"As it relates to any long-term assistance, that would have to be determined by an assessment of what damage had occurred," he said.

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