Take the sensible approach, focus on flood resilience
This woman has no choice but to get her feet wet as she crosses Waltham Park Road in St Andrew, Friday. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

WE await the inevitable estimate of damage caused by the heavy rains that pelted Jamaica over the past few days. Given what we have seen so far, we expect it will require tens of millions of dollars to reopen roads, make surfaces drivable again and repair infrastructure.

Of importance also is the damage done to the agricultural sector which will, no doubt, need assistance from the State.

There's no escaping the rain, and given Jamaica's geographic location we are susceptible to tropical cyclones, particularly at this time of year. So far we have been spared a direct hit, but are we not tired of this annual exercise of counting losses and allocating funds for remedial measures - funds that could be put to good use in other vital areas?

For example, in April 2014 then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, in her budget presentation, announced that the Government had spent more than $4 billion on flood mitigation measures.

According to Mrs Simpson Miller, the money was spent over the previous financial year during which a number of gullies were built, and existing ones cleaned as part of the flood mitigation programme.

Seven years later the country was told that the Government had earmarked $100 million for the cleaning of drains and clearing of verges across the island, as part of the first phase of national preparations for the 2021 North Atlantic hurricane season.

Those are just two examples of what obtains each year as we prepare to face nature's fury. And while we continue to advocate that preparedness is essential to our survival, it shouldn't be costing that much if we approach it in a sensible way.

Last week we again pointed to the unsustainable routine of successive governments spending millions of dollars on flood mitigation programmes each year, only to be saddled with damage repair bills amounting sometimes to billions of dollars after each hurricane season.

The argument we put forward is worth repeating. Instead of putting ourselves in the position of having to repeatedly allocate so much funds to repairs, and replacement, we should focus on building out the country's flood resilience capacity.

That, it appears, was the intention with the construction of the Sandy Gully and Barnes Gully drainage systems. But that was more than 50 years ago, and since then the country has seen exponential growth in residential and commercial developments, new roads have been added to the network, and more are being built.

Given the episodes of flooding that we are experiencing each time there is heavy rain, let alone persistent showers associated with tropical cyclones, it is clear that the country's system of open drains can no longer adequately serve their original purpose of quickly channelling rainwater from our streets and other open spaces to the sea.

In our discussion of this issue last week we had again pointed to the flood mitigation systems built by The Netherlands, and Japan in its capital city, Tokyo. We acknowledge that what exists in those countries is not inexpensive, but we again implore the Jamaican Government to give greater focus to disaster and risk reduction combined with a flood control system that will save lives, protect property and infrastructure, as well as spare taxpayers the heavy cost of repairs each year.

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