Manzanilla collapse: decades of neglect

By Raffique Shah
November 23, 2014

Raffique ShahThe devastation of sections of the Manzanilla-Mayaro Road may have been triggered by an act of God, as many are wont to say when heavy rainfall wreaks havoc and they wish to cover up their complicity in the destruction—dumping debris into watercourses, interfering with drainage systems, or denuding hillsides and undertaking construction in the worst possible places.

Governments in particular find refuge behind the Big Man: how often after floods have they used God’s name to deflect their own delinquency in subjecting citizens to destruction that is sometimes avoidable? If you think about it, every government has sheltered behind God, from the monarchs in colonial times to modern day prime ministers.

And they get away with it, eh. People, the masses, actually believe that the Big Man, despite the fact that He is a Trini, sometimes gets blasted vex with us and opens up the heavens as a form of punishment. So flood waters inundate communities across the country, make people’s lives a watery hell, they suffer, often in silence, clean up, replace damaged furniture and appliances, access Government grants and accept hampers, then thank the Lord for sparing their lives, to live to endure the next deluge.

Now, in the matter of the destruction of the Manzanilla-Mayaro Road, while I accept that unduly heavy rainfall will have caused the flood, I absolutely reject the notion that elements were responsible for destroying the road. I argue that governments over the past 60 years, from colonial to republican, have, through a combination of delinquency, myopia and sheer ineptitude, misled the country to this sorry pass.

The road in question is a critical section of the main link between North Trinidad, meaning the seat of Government and centre of commerce, and highly industrialised south-eastern part of the country. Most people may be unaware that as far back as in 1902, the first commercial oil well was drilled in the forests of Guayaguayare (it produced 100 barrels a day). Several other productive wells were drilled before Randolph Rust abandoned the project because of lack of infrastructure—roads!

Fast forward to 1968 when Amoco, drilling the first well offshore the east coast, struck oil in a big way: it was the dawn of a new era in oil and gas production for Trinidad and Tobago. Oil from offshore boosted land production, much of which came from wells in the Mayaro and Guayaguayare forests.

So southeast Trinidad evolved into an energy-production hub even before the Point Lisas estate was established. Yet, there were only two public roads linking this important area to the rest of the country-the Naparima-Mayaro Road in the south, and the Manzanilla-Mayaro in the east.

Now, the latter evolved from an agricultural estate road that serviced the huge coconut estates in the southeast, and the vibrant vegetables, fruits and fishing communities that were adjacent to them. By the time the road became a public thoroughfare, its original foundation, which catered mainly for farming equipment and light vehicles, remained intact, with mostly paving and re-paving works done.

So here was a main link to the new oil-gas hub running on loose gravel, in a manner of speaking. No government between 1970 and today thought it necessary to construct a new, structurally sound road to connect Mayaro with Sangre Grande, given that heavy vehicles and equipment would use it frequently, and more importantly, it’s a lifeline of sorts to the economy.

Now that severe flooding has exposed the “track” that has been used as a main road for decades, we are still not hearing Government talk about constructing a proper road to replace the sub-standard one. They are about to spend a few million dollars to do cosmetic repairs, and talk of “major works” costing $50 million.

Hey, the San Fernando-Point Fortin highway extension will cost over seven billion dollars. While there is no need for a highway in the east, surely Government must build a first class, properly-engineered road that takes into account the Atlantic to the east and the Nariva Swamp to the west. It will take time to design and conduct other preliminary studies, which is all the more reason why the process should get underway immediately.

Simultaneously, Government should be looking to rectify weaknesses in the Naparima-Mayaro Road, which is prone to landslides and flooding from the Ortoire River in Mafeking. There are plans for a highway linking San Fernando-Princes Town-Rio Claro-Mayaro, but clearly that is not a priority item on the national agenda.

The floods that destroyed the Manzanilla-Mayaro Road and brought untold suffering to hundreds of people in the area are not something you would wish upon your enemy, far less one’s fellow citizens. But it took a disaster of this magnitude to expose decades-long Government neglect of southeast Trinidad.

As I have shown, this is all the more tragic because of the importance of those communities to the wealth of the nation that we who live far from the disaster zone enjoy. The collapse of the road must serve as a catalyst for equitable development in a country where rural and urban are inter-dependent, or, in this instance, where rural contributes more than urban.

Flood waters drain into the collapsed section of the Manzanilla Road
Flood waters drain into the collapsed section of the Manzanilla Road
Manzanilla Flooding 2014 in pictures

5 thoughts on “Manzanilla collapse: decades of neglect”

  1. ” I argue that governments over the past 60 years…….. have, through a combination of delinquency, myopia and sheer ineptitude, misled the country to this sorry pass.” Uncle Shah

    Ok, so where does looking over our shoulders, like Lots wife , do us any good Uncle Shah?
    It is time to quit ‘beating around de bush ,’ as we like to say on de streets, and instead, call a spade , a spade , hmmmm?
    Put the blame where it is rightly deserve-at the feet ,of our Kamla , and her self serving , neo tribal PP goons.
    It is under their watch, that this catastrophic debacle occurred, and so no one is interested in the neglect of her five male predecessors.
    It’s the same way we will feel, if heavens forbid , -the Eric Williams constructed – Financial Twin Towers, was to tumble to the ground, during a pack Parliamentary session/debate-with Rammy on the floor- as his government, was attempting to force feed,one of their many, unconstitutional bills, on an unsuspecting nation.
    As the bodies are carted off to the POS General Hospital , and Eric Williams Medical Complex , en route to Miami, and London, we progressives, will be asking Kamla pointed question, not Manning, or his drinking pal Basdeo.
    There are those who would say that overall infrastructural development ,that are of benefit to the nation as a whole , could have taken place, to a greater degree, if Basdeo’s protégé Kamla, had not been so obsessed with pushing her phony , feel good,de-centralization schemes.
    Put differently, the Panday,”dis is our time philosophical mantra ,took full bloom..ummmm, became the rage , under the PP regime.
    How many projects , did these political bums ,reneged on , at huge cost to taxpayers Uncle Shah?
    Can the proposed Couva hospital , reassure folks in those tribal enclaves , that they will finally get the much needed Health care service they deserve ,or would they sill have to mortgage their homes , to get into those private clinics/health facilities controlled by Dr Fraud , and Dr Goopiesing medical bandits- who no longer suffer ethnic cleansing at the hands of savage African leaders-as once claimed?
    Who will reassure folks like Bro Kian , that Auntie Kamla , and her PP minstrels gang, ain’t hell bent on making congested ,
    Chagurnas , into the nation’s capital, while POS, and Manzanilla ,fall into disrepair?

    In ending , here is a thought provoking quote, by Jimmy Ried, that can encourage us all ,to hold our leaders symbolic hands, to the fire .
    Long live de Republic of T&T!

    “The task of the media in a democracy is not to ease the path of those who govern, but to make life difficult for them by constant vigilance as to how they exercise the power they only hold in trust from the people.”

  2. Our Honorable Prime Minister was not given the gift of telepathy nor the education of a meteorologist. She has a staff that is comprised of MPs, Fields Workers, regional offices, and the support of several ministries that are required to work at a local level securing the needs and requirements of the constituents. Then they are suppose to report to the PM. When we vote, we always hope that they will carry out their duties as mandated by our Constitution and act in “good faith” on behalf of its people.

    But Governments are flawed because they are comprised of humans, who after 200,000 years of brain development seem to want more. When I say more, I mean more knowledge, more education, more insight, more money, more land, more power, more dominance, more control, one control. It’s not bad to want more, but it is the selection type of the more, that becomes dangerous. That is why we need transparency in all government.

    This Prime Minister is a VERY intelligent woman and knows how to punch that upper cut in the political ring. But she is a novice and need a little experience in dealing with downs. She has never had a good fight and is learning fast. So right now she is punched down by the negative press about the flood, the few isolated corruption in the party, and the redundant complaints of the opposition party. This PM is on the mat. She reminds me of President Obama…the lone leader with his party leaving him…but there is hope…

    I agree that the floods were terrible and a major road was destroyed. But what I want to know is this: How many families with children were displaced permanently from their homes? How many people drowned? How many crops were destroyed?
    Was this flood as bad as Hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami? The answer I think is ZERO (except for the crops, but this is about 3% of that area of Trinidad’s export…) so it really was not that bad.

    What I would like to know is this: what is the cost to fix a one time loss like this compared to the cost to repair and provide constant maintenance of the roads, bridges, dams, and rivers in the area. When you do the math, include workers, pensions, vacations, life insurance, etc…)

    Why would the government act this way? Then I thought..the majority of people that were affected by the floods were poor and truly struggling financially. Almost all of them probably needed new mattresses anyway, and the opportunity of getting hampers, groceries, and reimbursement for appliances (many of which were already broken prior to the flood) would be “like an act of god.”

    So why not give these people some hope and gratitude with some grant money and cash reimbursements. Poor people tend to appreciate gifts from the government because after a while it becomes an entitlement.

    If you appease these people, you have the power to allow yourself incredible access to resources, less oversight and more important almost no transparency.

    You see, I think that is the perception of many Trinidadians including government workers. I think they see poor people as “those” people because they have no impact on their lives. But during the election you need them more than ever because their vote may just carry your party.

    This PM is trying to change that perception but it appears that every time she makes strides towards a goal, an opportunist strategically intervenes. The one or two tend to take the spotlight and away from her accomplishments.

    She has the capacity to drive Trinidad into the 21st century as far as technology is concerned, internal infrastructure, education across the board, and diverse international trade deals. But she needs a strong staff to build her capacity.

    I think the PM has the courage to stand up and give that upper cut but she needs a really good strategy.

  3. Viewing footage of the flooding no one could have predicted such devastation. Of course the usual Trini thing is to blame the government. It is somehow their fault, when in fact Trinis are amongst the dirtiest people in the world when it comes to protecting the environment. About 2 years ago I was on that road and could not believe the amount of styrofoam cups scattered all over the place. The great symbol of alcoholic decadence. All it would take is one of these small vacuum trucks to come and suction up the mess. Done in a few hours.

    When we talk about devastation it is nothing compared to Japan. Yet the Japanese people are amongst the most disciplined people in the world sharing their food with others and eating just enough…

    1. Amazing Mamoo. It’s only last night my friends and I were having this said conversation whereby the Japanese came up on the aftermath of the tsunami that wrecjhed and devastated their country. They with the required discipline literally replaced those damaged roads overnight. The dependence on government was not their priority but every citizen came out and did their part. Compare this with our scenarion where there is so much griping and complaining.

  4. Trinidadians are not the dirtiest people in the world, they were taught not to care about the environment by the people who govern. This has been going on since the 1950’s before the constitution was drafted but perpetuated by the PNM once they took over in the late 70’s.

    When Trinidad became industrialized and later independent, the PNM and their tight group of colleagues were already busy investing in their children and positioning themselves to operate the country independent of British support. It appears that while all “those” the farmers who were busy working in the rice land, herding cows, cutting cane, and raising chickens, the PNM leaders were busy working on retaining their political wealth and control for generations to come. They ensured that children within their small group of family and friends were given full access to education and apprentice abroad.

    These are the folks that came back to Trinidad and drafted the Constitution, established businesses, partnered with banks and investment companies abroad and ensured that their foreign partners received back door tax breaks and broad patents.
    The many roads and bridges that were built back then had to be built safely to ensure the safe transportation of the wealthy investors and foreign business owners.

    Today,this PM is trying to change the mindset of Trinidad and retain control but it takes time to create change after so many years of political PNM abuse.
    I give the tremendous credit to the UNC and what they have accomplished in the past. It is the future of the party that I am concerned about and we need to really think about strategy so we can help our PM move forward into the 21st century..

    Our Party has been around for a short time since Trinidad attained Independence, but we have mobilized the lives of many, many poor people. Education is somewhat attainable but its value is not enforced within the poor community. The PM is trying to break those barriers, but we need to support her…with our votes.

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