Drain-cleaning — a political football game, a national disgrace
In this image from video, rescuers evacuate residents of North Port, Florida, on Friday, September 30, 2022. (Photo: AP)

Two diametrically opposing speeches made last week Tuesday on drain-cleaning, or the lack thereof, gave stark reminders how the need for votes continues to stymie efforts to mitigate the flooding disasters that beset us virtually every year.

Every hurricane and major rainfall that has hit Jamaica as far back as we can remember has left us swimming in a tide of despair and recriminations, as our political leaders blame the attendant floods on the drain-cleaning problem and each other.

They swop scripts, depending on whether they are in Government or Opposition, knowing the real cause, but never facing the truth together, over fears that telling the people the facts will cost them at the polls.

It's a national disgrace.

The incessant flooding is not entirely to be blamed on lack of drain-cleaning. A fleeting glance at the graphic pictures of well-laid-out communities with houses, trees, and cars under water in Florida after Hurricane Ian struck should prove our point.

Moreover, there is never, ever enough money to clean clogged drains. So prevention is better than cure.

Everybody knows that people, especially the poor and indigent, choose to live in flood-prone areas that will never escape devastation from torrential rains. As happens with the party in power, Prime Minister Andrew Holness found the courage to lay out the problem, as he spoke at a handing over of water trucks to the State-run National Water Commission:

"…Right now, the average Jamaican doesn't see it as a concern; any hillside, any coastal area, any river bank, people go and live there, but there will come a time when Government has to be very assertive and instrumental in where people decide to live and where people can build," he said.

Of course, the prime minister is right.

"We are building in areas that are flood-prone; we're getting rain in short bursts in unpredictable seasons that is going to put your housing and your lives at risk and it cannot be that at every event there is a cry to the State to restore housing or rebuild roads. These things are not feasible," he added.

What Mr Holness might have forgotten is the speech by his Local Government Minister Mr Desmond McKenzie in June 2017 when he boldly declared that the Government was prepared to order the mandatory evacuation of flood-prone areas in keeping with the State's responsibility to protect lives. Of course, no such thing has been done.

At that time, Mr McKenzie reported that more than 600,000 people were living in 754 informal settlements across the country, 585 of which had been mapped and 138 of them were located within 100 metres of waterways.

On the same day that Mr Holness spoke last week, Mrs Natalie Neita Garvey, the Opposition spokeswoman on local government, did what the Opposition party has always done — called for immediate allocation of funds for drain-cleaning in all parishes.

The cleaning of the Chelsea drain, which the National WorksAgency said is the source of the flooding in Irwin community of StJames. (Photo: NWA)

"This situation must be remedied without delay, as drain-cleaning will minimise the impact of flooding from the already undersized municipal drainage systems," she said in a press statement. Of course, no mention was made of the real cause of the flooding.

This nonsense of a political football game must stop! The Government must act on its declarations and the Opposition must tell the people the truth about living in flood-prone areas.

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