Flooding: Ounce of prevention better than a pound of cure
Brandon, who lives on Riverside Driv ein New Haven, St. Andrew, says the community needs proper drainage systems. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

The heavy rains that have pelted Jamaica since Saturday as Tropical Storm Ian passed to our south have triggered flooding in sections of the country which, while not as devastating as previous episodes, has created great inconvenience to citizens.

Indeed, many householders in flood-prone communities are today still counting the cost of damage to property and crops, and later this week we expect that the State will give an indication of the strain that the losses will place on the treasury.

Expressions of relief that some areas did not suffer damage because of drain cleaning and other flood-mitigation works are encouraging. However, we believe that the island's infrastructure was not fully tested this time.

And even then, it is clear from some of the images we are seeing that enough work has not been done to adequately prepare the country for the hurricane season. For decades, successive Administrations have been spending millions of dollars on flood-mitigation programmes only to be saddled with damage repair bills, amounting sometimes to billions, after the hurricane season.

That is unsustainable, especially given the fact that global warming is contributing to stronger, more frequent storms that increase episodes of flooding. Indeed, the World Meteorological Organization has reported that flood-related catastrophes have increased by 134 per cent since the year 2000.

It seems to us, therefore, that, instead of putting ourselves in the position of having to repeatedly allocate so much funds to repairs, and replacement, we ought to engage in building the country's flood-resilience capacity.

Two countries that have done this successfully come easily to mind — The Netherlands and Japan in its capital city Tokyo.

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, now rated among the best in the world, comprises a network of locks, sluices and storm surge barriers. Improvement work, we are told, is continuous, given that a third of the country's land is below sea level, thus making it extremely vulnerable to rising ocean levels.

In Japan, 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 that lies 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.

These systems, of course, are not cheap. However, it is clear that the thinking in both these countries is that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of 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. Additionally, standing flood water is a perfect breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

There is need, therefore, for the national budget to give greater focus to disaster and risk-reduction combined with a flood-control system that will save lives, as well as protect property and infrastructure.

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