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The Great Flood Of 2002
Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2002

By Stephen Kangal MOM

Water! Water! Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink
---Coleridge's Ancient Mariner

What is the nexus that links political visibility, the epidemic of rampant and wanton lawlessness that is holding law-abiding T&T to ransom and Coleridge's "The Ancient Mariner" with the perennial flooding menace in T&T?

In the late 50's the late Lionel Frank Seukeran MP for Naparima, debater par excellence, wrote the above lines of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, "Water, Water Everywhere and Not A Drop to Drink" into Hansard when he lamented the annual scourge of perennial flooding that then inundated and held Central Trinidad as hostages. Was it because it was the Caroni Flood Plain as Minister Franklin Khan would have us believe?

Today after 40 years of independence, a windfall bonanza of petro-dollars and engineering designs being conceptualised and geared to facilitate T&T's entry via a 20/20 elusive Vision to a developed country status, flooding remains with us. It is a hangover, a relic, a debilitating legacy of our colonial culture that is dislocating our reasonable aspirations for a good and decent life. This 20/20 politically generated Vision is raising social, economic and political expectations that may turn out to be a pie in the sky.

The recent November deluge that consummated into a debacle ravaged our innocence. It destroyed our sub-urban immunity from flooding. It awakened us from a dream of complacency that flooding was a rural event circumscribed by geography.

The Honourable Speaker of the House refused permission for leave to debate an urgent and widespread event of compelling national importance and concern. He needed three days notice as if the occurrence of a disaster is regulated by the Standing Orders of the House and will not occur after Wednesday of each week. This has to be the standing joke of 21st Century Trinbago and a serious handicap against this vaunted target of achieving developed country status by 2020. The developed country status must be predicated on a revolutionary change in the state of mind of our peoples to be fostered and promoted by abandoning the drag effects of political indentureship and slavery that is keeping us from going forward.

Let me express my sense of outrage against years and decades of congenital neglect, callous indifference and the uncaring lack of the political will to solve the flooding problem that have plunged us headlong into widespread despair, shock and trauma. Central Trinidad now needs shock therapists, victimologists, humanitarian advocates and caring father figures.

Rain is an act of Nature, the pantheistic God. He sends it on the good, the bad and the ugly as a bounty to man. Flooding is the culpable negligence of the don't-care-damn syndrome of 40 years of independence governance. Mr. Panday is on record as saying that flooding was an act of God. Consistent with this misrepresentation his regime did nothing, zilch, nakuch, nihil for alleviating the flooding woes of his Central and other rural loyalists. Nothing for nadia ki pani not even for the bhowchaar (rain sprays).

Flooding is not an engineering problem. It is not even a money problem. It is and always has been and will continue to be a political problem because it was regarded as a Caroni problem. Mr Panday wanted to distance the UNC from being a Caroni party and with that from the problems of Caroni. The pathological unwillingness and lack of political will to rid us of flooding is the root cause of the problem. Forget this irresponsible garbage about integrated, holistic approaches that are red herrings and facades to procrastinate, postpone and rationalise doing nothing. A Flood Abatement Plan for the Caroni River Basin was conceptualised by the Japanese decades ago and is gathering alluvial dust in the Drainage Division.

Each area possesses its own peculiar flooding dynamics and there are local remedial solutions for each flood-prone constituency. Just ask the victims of flooding in Central and we can eliminate the exorbitant studies that will eat away at the future resources that might be made available by the World Bank and The IDB for flood control and abatement.

Examine the manifestoes issued in connection with the last General Elections but more especially that of the UNC. Did you see any policy statement/action plan for flood abatement and control in the manifestoes? This is only one component of the demonstrable lack of the political will.

Did the UNC make a statement on the recent flood catastrophe except a lack -lustre intervention in Parliament under definite matters of urgent public importance that the Honourable Speaker unwittingly rebuffed? Even the NAR issued a comprehensive statement and NATUC called for the declaration of flooded areas to be designated as disaster areas by the Government. The Honourable Speaker telegraphed the wrong political signal when assessed from several viewpoints on the flooding issue.

Flooding is no respecter of rank, of political affiliation, of ethnicity, of town and country. Flooding is a national menace demanding national, non -partisan humanitarian-based solutions.

It is the congenital lack of the political will to institute effective flood abatement and control measures that causes your homes, your crops, your cars and your businesses to be destroyed by floods that Mr.Panday calls an Act of God.

Political Visibility

There is another sordid aspect to the flooding that constitutes an acute environmental menace. Establishing flood control measures lacks what I call political visibility. Our politicians are eye-servants. No one sees the crane dredging cleaning the watercourses. But every one sees the Coosal's Barber Greenes laying 2 inches of asphalt while billing for and charging for 4 inches.

Lawlessness in society

There is another aspect to the flooding scourge. Flooding is a manifestation of the breakdown of law and order in this Dhart Mai of T&T. It is a spin-off from endemic lawlessness. The root causes of flooding are no different from the spate of kidnappings, burglaries, banditries and the white -collar crimes. Illegal quarrying disfigures and pulverises the hills. Unlawful slash and burn agriculture causes erosion of the hillsides. Unauthorized and indiscriminate housing developments on the hills in Marcas St.Joseph, Caura Valley has blocked and silted up the rivers exacerbated by illegal dumping of garbage in the watercourses. The Litter Act is a piece of paper. Ineffective or non-existent policing/monitoring of the environment is the order of the day. The Town and Country Planning Division was rendered ineffective by abandonment of the planning framework with the result that the Airport and Grand Bazaar are built illegally. The EMA is a toothless, expensive paper tiger.

Our institutions charged with instituting environmental controls and management have collapsed as admitted by planning Minister Rowley when he addressed the T&T Society of Planners:

"The several examples of diseconomies created by inappropriate land use allocations, less than optimum use and development of land, environmental degradation and the resulting adverse impact on the well-being of our people bear testimony to the need for a concerted effort to adopt new and improved approaches to development planning." (Express Nov. 26, p. 4)

I hope that these are not nice sounding platitudes.

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