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Khan Gallerying on the Floods
Posted: Friday, December 20, 2002

By Stephen Kangal MOM

Out of sincere respect for the status of the Honourable Franklin Khan, Minister of Works and Transport I have since 16 November 2002 generously accorded to the Honourable Minister a very wide berth to allow him to flaunt his penchant for indulging in misleading semantics and misinformation geared to deceive and mislead simple rural folks victims of floods. But now it has reached the stage of water more than flour and reluctantly I have decided to expose the litany of misinformation.

Minister Khan is on record of repeating ad nauseam that people should not be living on flood plains- his pet word (Guardian and Express 18 Dec. pp.5). Where did the Honourable Minister learn his Form One geography? May I humbly ask Minister Khan, with respect, where did most, if not all, early civilizations originate and expand exponentially if not on the flood plains of the great rivers of the world? Where are the contemporary prime concentrations of human settlements/ industrial conurbations/ riparian ports established if not in the valleys (flood plains) of the St. Lawrence, Mississippi, The Thames, Yangtse-Kiang, The Rhine, the Seine, The Nile etc and I can go on ad infinitum?

Coming nearer home is the Minister suggesting that Trinidadians should not be living on the extensive Caroni Flood Plain lying between the Northern and Central Ranges and drained by the Caroni River and its tributaries? Where did the wise former T&T colonial administration establish the infamous barracks to house the indentured sugar labourers if not on the banks of the Caroni River to provide ready access to water for household uses, transportation and water for industrial facilities such as the sugar and rum factories?

Does Minister Khan not know, as he ought to, that La Paille Gardens, an NHA Housing Project is sited on the banks of the Caroni River and its immediate flood plain but a simple river embankment built in 1978 has immunized this village from flooding permanently? Is the Minister usurping the role of the Minister of Housing and telegraphing that no new housing developments will be established in rural communities to justify concentrating such NHA developments in the strategic marginal, East-West Corridor constituencies (Express Dec.18, p.5; Guardian 18/12, p. 5)?

The banks of rivers, arteries of cheap communications, have from time immemorial hosted strategically human settlements and industrial sites without the trauma and disruption of floods on the basis of effective flood abatement and control measures being instituted by caring and avant garde governments. Does the Minister know of the sophisticated Thames Flood Barrier erected in the mid- 1980ís to insulate London, sited on the banks of the Thames, from the disastrous effects of a rare, potential combination of high tides and a flooded Thames River? Does the Minister know that Holland is situated entirely below the level of the North Sea and is still one of the most advanced and prosperous countries through the establishment of anti-flooding measures?

Minister Khan is indulging in a futile cover up to shield successive Governments from gross negligence and dereliction of duty by now attributing albeit pathetically, the blame for flooding to, inter alia, history. It must be clear to all Form One geography students that major cities of the developed and developing world are sited on the banks of rivers (flood plains) that are regularly cleaned, dredged, de-silted, fitted with reinforced embankments (levees) and other flood mitigation, abatement and control measures. Rain Mr. Khan is a fiat of geography- flooding the negligence of the State. Do not blame history for those who ignore it are guaranteed to repeat it.

I am at a loss to understand what Minister Khan means when he says that the role of the state is to establish anti-flood infrastructure and communities are required to maintain these facilities (Guardian 19/12, p. 9). In T&T routine and requisite maintenance is foreign to our national psyche.

Minister Khan is indulging in semantics in trying to distinguish between the concepts of "compensation" and "reliefs" in relation to the legitimate claims submitted by the flood victims of the two Caroni Villages. Let me respectfully remind Minister Khan that Caroni Villagers have submitted incontrovertible and authentic evidence relating to the gross negligence of his Drainage Division ("the somebody else") that caused the flooding in Caroni ( Express Nov.18, p.7).

We in Caroni are not begging for favours or alms from the Government. We are entitled to adequate and prompt compensation to restore the status quo ante the floods. This is an accepted principle underlying our fundamental rights to the loss of our property as well as the laws governing negligence and liability on the part of the Drainage Division. We have informed Minister Khan as well as the Cabinet-appointed Team of Ministers of our serious intention to pursue the matter in the courts to defend our constitutional rights to adequate compensation and not to be subjected to the whims and fancies of an urban, uncaring bureaucracy.

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