Another warning
PM again cautions against building in flood-prone areas
Prime Minister Andrew Holness tests a water hose attached to one of seven water trucks valued $92.6 million, which were handed over to the National Water Commission (NWC) on Tuesday. The presentation was made at the NWC's head office on Marescaux Road in Kingston. (Photo: JIS)

For decades government officials have been warning Jamaicans against building houses in flood-prone areas, pointing out the risks to life and property. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness again issued another caution, saying that the country needs to take serious decisions about the location of shelter.

"We are going to have to make, in the coming years, very serious decisions about where we choose to live and how we provision our utilities," Holness said as he handed over eight water trucks to the National Water Commission (NWC) at the State entity's complex on Marescaux Road in St Andrew.

"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.

The prime minister's comments came after Jamaica experienced heavy rain associated with Hurricane Ian which rendered numerous roads impassable, resulted in the temporary closure of schools, and flooding in several communities in Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine, and other parishes.

The water trucks are expected to assist the NWC's efforts to provide potable water across the island.

"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," Holness insisted.

On Monday, as rain from the outer bands of Hurricane Ian lashed the island, residents in New Haven, St Andrew a community prone to flooding told the Jamaica Observer that the Duhaney River had overflown its banks.

The residents said water from a gully that runs from Cooreville Gardens and Duhaney Park impeded the free flow of the river. They also noted that the problem has existed for many years, despite calling on the authorities to create a barrier to separate the river and the gully.

In June 2017, at the start of the hurricane season, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie had cautioned that the Government was prepared to order the mandatory evacuation of flood-prone areas in keeping with the State's responsibility to protect lives.

McKenzie, who pointed out that Jamaicans living in those areas had ignored warnings to evacuate in the past, said that more than 600,000 people were living in 754 informal settlements across the country. Additionally, he said that 585 of those communities had been mapped and 138 of them were located within 100 metres of waterways.

Two years later, McKenzie made it clear that the provisions of the 2018 Building Act would be rigorously enforced as he reminded Jamaicans that the Act gives the local authorities clear powers to intervene through emergency orders to cease building work on land that is deemed to be hazardous.

Last year, after Tropical Storm Elsa passed close to Jamaica, Holness encouraged Jamaicans living in low-lying and flood-prone areas to plan evacuation routes that can be activated at short notice.

On Tuesday, Holness said he is alerting Jamaicans that the Government will develop strategies to respond effectively to climate change.

"I am using this platform to sound the alert that Government will have to change policies and enforce current policies to ensure we are very strategic in how we pursue our built environment, protect our natural environment, how we build resilience through adaptation and mitigation efforts for climate change and how we ensure our utilities are able to respond to these variables of climate change which will create exogenous shocks, which will require emergency response," he said.

BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON Observer staff reporter hutchinsonb@jamaicaobserver.com

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