Drainage study a good first step, PM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness in Parliament.

We are encouraged by Prime Minister Andrew Holness's disclosure that a drainage study will be used to inform the construction of infrastructure to insulate Montego Bay from the type of flooding the city experienced in recent years during heavy rain.

The study, Mr Holness said last week, is long overdue as just about every two years Montego Bay experiences "a heavy phenomenal rain event that floods out the entire" city.

"All of that is going to be studied, and once the study is done, then we have to programme the infrastructure investment to put in the drains, train the rivers, build the culverts and gullies so that as we make these kinds of investments, we lower the risk of them being affected by natural disasters specifically," the prime minister said.

That is, of course, a good first step to a perennial problem in this country.

For decades, successive administrations have been spending millions of dollars on flood-mitigation programmes only to be saddled with damage repair bills, amounting to billions of dollars in most cases, after the hurricane season.

That, we reiterate, is unsustainable, especially given the fact that global warming is contributing to stronger, more frequent storms that increase episodes of flooding. We have, before, suggested that instead of putting ourselves in the position of having to repeatedly allocate massive sums to repairs and replacement, the authorities should engage in strengthening our flood-resilience capacity.

Some time ago we pointed to two countries — The Netherlands and Japan — that have done this successfully.

The Netherlands invested heavily in its flood-protection system after the death of more than 1,800 people in the North Seas floods of 1953. The system, which comprises a network of locks, sluices and storm surge barriers, is now rated among the best in the world. Improvement work is continuous, given that a third of the country's land is below sea level, thus making it extremely vulnerable to rising ocean levels.

Japan's capital city of Tokyo is protected from flooding by a series of five massive sinkholes designed to catch run-off from rivers in spate. The sinkholes, which are up to 74 metres high and 32 metres wide, funnel the water through a 6.3 kilometre-long system of tunnels approximately 50m underneath the Edo river basin which transports the water to a vast reservoir, after which it is pushed out through sluice gates into the river.

As we acknowledged before, these systems are not cheap. However, it is clear that the thinking in both countries is that prevention is better than cure. There's no challenging the fact that flooding destroys lives, infrastructure, biodiversity, livelihoods, and other assets.

It can also worsen health hazards when sewers overflow and freshwater mixes with polluted water.

Weather experts have forecast that a low pressure trough located in the south-western Caribbean Sea could develop into a tropical depression that will bring heavy rain to Jamaica this weekend. We should expect extensive flooding, and the cost will most likely be huge.

We should not go into another rainy season without having in place a disaster and risk-reduction plan combined with a flood-control system that will save lives, and protect property and infrastructure.

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