New drainage system solution to country's flooding problem, says Holness
Blocked drains on Marcus Garvey Drive led to flooding of the roadway, which forced men to push a van which was stranded in heavy water on Monday as rain associatd with Tropical Storm Ian lashed the island for a second day. (Photo: Garfield Robinon)

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness says the solution to the country's flooding problem is not to increase the size of the existing drains but to build new drainage infrastructure alongside continuing road-improvement works.

This comes as the country experienced major flooding, blamed on an inadequate drainage system, following the passage of Tropical Storm Ian.

"The strategy is that as we build out the new roads, we build out adequate drainage to take water off some of the local roads, to capture run-off from local roads to ensure that the existing drains, some [built] hundreds of years ago, 20, 40, 50 years ago…are not placed under pressure," he said.

Holness was responding to queries posed by Opposition spokesman on transport and works, Mikael Phillips in Parliament on Wednesday regarding how the country's poor drainage system will be dealt with by the Government. This followed from the prime minister's statement on the impact of Tropical Storm Ian on the island.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, making a statement to the House of Representatives on the flooding in the island because of Tropical Storm Ian on Wednesday (September 28). Listening (from left) are Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke and Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange. (Photo: JIS)

He noted that road infrastructure being built out by the Government around the island, particularly highways, are designed with adequate capacity drainage.

"So you would see that the roads that we have built here in the Corporate Area, the roads we are building now on the southern coastal road improvement [project] — plus some others that are planned — you wouldn't see much issues with drainage. But there are some issues where the communities have complained that run-off from the roads would cause some flooding, but we are going to be addressing that as well," he said.

Addressing Phillip's point that in improving drainage there also needs to be an increase in the maintenance budget and schedule, Holness admitted that he could "never dispute that point".

"I think we are spending as much as we can. I have just today [Wednesday] signed off on another round of routine maintenance, so each Member of Parliament [MP] will get an allocation to do drain-cleaning again," he said.

Holness was quick to point out, however, that regardless of how much the maintenance schedule and maintenance budget are increased, "the truth is that the drains that we have are not designed for the level of run-off that we have".

"They are very small and they will get clogged very easily. They simply cannot carry the volume of water that is there. So, even if they are cleaned the volume of water will still create some flooding — but only temporarily. So if you notice, when we have heavy rainfall you will have some amount of flooding but it runs off fairly quickly; by the very day or the following day, the water is off. That speaks to the size of the drain not being able to take the water off the road as the rain is falling so, therefore, you have a back-up and flooding," he explained.

The prime minister assured that a comprehensive approach is being taken by the Government to address the problem, and noted that more resources have been made available to MPs for drain-cleaning and maintenance.

"[During the] Christmas [period] MPs will get a fairly decent allocation to treat with a few of the difficult roads that you have. And we hope that MPs have been using those allocations wisely to treat with those roads that may be overlooked by the central authority and, in addition to that, will be treating with the garbage situation which is also creating the problem of garbage in our very small drains," he added.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Holness says the country has to do better in capturing waste as improper waste disposal normally adds to the blocking of drains — especially the smaller ones — whenever it rains. He noted that the Government will be executing a plan very shortly which will see Jamaica's waste problem being corrected in a significant way. He was making reference to the Government's plan to divest waste management to the private sector.

"It's going to be greater collection of garbage, the development of a sanitary landfill and, eventually, a waste-to-energy plant [that] you will be hearing much more about," he said.

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter smitha@jamaicaobserver.com

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