By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 5, 2019
It was a light drizzle, or so I thought. Two weeks ago I was making my way to City Gate to get a maxi taxi to take me to Tacarigua. The drizzle turned into a downpour and then the deluge started. Like many fellow travelers, I sheltered beneath the canopy of RBT Royal Bank, hoping that the water would drain away quickly.
Minutes turned into an hour as the water poured into Lower Lara Promenade South and the street in front of City Gate turned into a river. After waiting another hour, like other travelers I eased my way southerly towards the western side of City Gate from which I made my way to the Arima maxi stand where I boarded a maxi to Tacarigua.
The process took about two hours but I didn’t complain. That is the lot of “the ordinary worker” once the rains begin to fall in Port of Spain. The tide rises and water inundates that part of the city.
This scene came back to my mind when I read about the perils of the rising oceans in the Boston Globe. The report said that over 110 million people around the globe live below the current high tide level. “Even under a scenario of very modest climate change, the number will rise to 150 million in 2050 and 190 million by 2100” (October 30).
The author predicted a scarier scenario: “If climate change and sea level rise follow a worse path, as many as 340 million people living below the high tide level could be in peril, to say nothing of how many could be affected in floods and extreme events.”
Trinidad and Tobago is not exempt from global warming that is heating up the place. When my niece says, “Uncle Selwyn, it’s really hot these days,” she does not realize how much she is caught up in a planetary phenomenon from which she cannot escape.
Nolana E. Lynch, a Trinidadian who was awarded the Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Development, writes: “We are the heat, having the second highest per capita greenhouse gas emission in the world; our nation is indeed producing a large amount of carbon, which directly increases temperatures worldwide.…
“Climate change is real, and its effects on tiny islands like Trinidad and Tobago can be phenomenal if we don’t take drastic steps now. Not only will Carnival become extinct, it’s quite possible that we can become extinct also, being completely submerged by the sea, save for the privileged, who can pack up and migrate to larger continents and greener pastures” (Caribbean Community Climate Change Center, 2019).
In 2015, the T&T Government, the City of Port of Spain and the Inter-American Development Bank released a study, “Sustainable Port of Spain.” It argued that a sustainable Port of Spain “is one that offers a good quality of life for its inhabitants, minimizes its adverse impact on the natural environment and has a local, fiscal and administrative government capacity to maintain economic growth and perform its duties with urban citizen participation.”
It warned: “For East Port of Spain this area is drained through the Beethan Estates. To appease the flooding in this area, it is critical to dewater the Beetham. The water in and around the Beetham Estates is often stagnant, not allowing sufficient flow through to the wetlands and eventually to the sea. This would alleviate the flooding and provide improvement in the quality of life for residents through the removal of a swamp and improvement in traffic flow.”
In 2017 the Ministry of Health alerted citizens about the dangers of flood-related diseases (such as typhoid fever, cholera, leptospirosis and hepatitis A). I am not sure it told them about the impact this stagnant water and environmental pollution have on the lives of those (mostly black people) who live in those areas.
The US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences warns: “Because climate change increases the severity and frequency of some precipitation events, communities—especially in the developing world—could be faced with elevated disease burden from waterborne diseases….Climate change is likely to increase diarrheal disease incidence worldwide, and extreme weather conditions may also complicate already—inadequate prevention efforts.”
There is another danger to which Beetham Estates and Sea Lots residents are subjected: the impact of the daily burning of refuse and industrial waste that creates poisonous nightly fogs in these areas. This daily onslaught of industrial pollutants has devastating impacts on their health and learning capacity.
Harriet A. Wilson, a former research fellow in medical ethics at Harvard Medical School, informed us of devastating injuries environmental poison inflicts on communities of color in the US and warns: “Intelligence is a product of environment and experience that is forged nor inherited; it is malleable, not fixed.”
She adds: “By eliminating lead, mercury, hydrocarbons, industrial chemicals, prenatal exposures to alcohols, and even exotic pathogens like ‘red tide’ algae poisonings, worm infections, and trichinosis, we can save the assailed brains of untold people of color” (A Terrible Thing to Waste.)
Last Thursday Patricia Espinosa, the head of the UN Climate Agency, said climate change is “the biggest challenge facing this and future generations” (NYT, October 31). On the same day Barbados Prime Minister Mia Motley delivered a lecture at the Hyatt Regional Hotel to raise “awareness about climate change and the issues facing the Caribbean Sea” (Express, October 31).
We must take these warnings seriously if we hope to save this and future generations from the catastrophe that awaits them. Shouldn’t this be one of the topics that we discuss in the forthcoming local election?