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Flooding, the silent killer for Caribbean countries

Flooding, the silent killer for Caribbean countries

By Fernella Wedderburn | Sat, October 09, 2010 - 7:00 PM

It’s called the silent killer. And for many Caribbean countries, flooding has emerged as the most common natural hazard affecting their socio-economic development.

Yet more than five years after the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) implemented the regional flood hazard management programme, not all regional states have fully embraced the initiative.

CDEMA executive director Jeremy Collymore said there can be no mistaking that floods pose the most frequent threat to the region, adding “we call it the silent killer”.

The regional flood hazard management programme has been drawn up with assistance from the Japanese government, the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology.

Collymore said that the project focuses on community level hazard management bringing together science and traditional knowledge for community safety.

“We need to have more of those replicated. We do have the science and the local knowledge together and that now has to be disseminated broadly and we are certainly looking to address that in our future resource mobilization,” he added.

In recent weeks, several Caribbean countries have had to deal with floods occasioned by unsettled weather over the region, resulting in death and widespread destruction running into millions of dollars.

In Haiti, 15 were killed in two separate rain storms and hundreds more left to start all over again even as they continue to struggle for survival following the January 12 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and left more than a million others homeless.

Jamaica said it would need more than US$110 million to deal with infrastructural damage caused by Tropical Storm Nicole that also left 13 dead.

The St. Lucia government was forced to declare the eastern village of Dennery a disaster zone after nearly 100 houses were submerged in water caused by unprecedented floods.

Infrastructural damage in Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and Belize also tell a tale of the severe floods that have affected the region in recent weeks.

Collymore said that while the regional flood hazard management programme is in place, at the national level, most countries fall short.

“I don’t think that many countries have really addressed a comprehensive national flood management programme. They may have drainage interventions. They may have river control but the concept of a national flood management programme, it still to be embraced.

“We see this to be to the next frontier of intervention where national flood hazard management programme is part of a national resilience policy.

“If you are going to prepare for the irregularities that are associated with climate variability and change, these are the kind of things that will happen.

“Lots of water in short time, so the absorptive capacity may be a challenge…but then we have to have the kind of resilient intervention …and this is what we are trying to do to upscale the nature in how we respond. Taking in consideration that the nature of the hazards is changing while the magnitudes are increasing,” Collymore said.

But the head of the Barbados-based regional disaster management agency believes that there are common lessons to be learnt from the recent floods, particularly the inadequacy of drainage systems to manage water flow.

He said the destruction of natural drainage systems allowing for the water to find its place among populated areas and the need to revisit the whole question of the integrated approach to watershed management are other common factors observed as a result of the recent rains.

But he said CDEMA is on stand-by to assist member states cope with the situation.

“Jamaica and the British Virgin Islands say they will be looking for external assistance. In the case of the Virgin Islands, they will be looking for support in relation to an engineering assessment of the damage to the infrastructure, roads and bridges etcetera.”

“We are certainly collaborating with the University of the West Indies in helping to respond to some of these technical requests. Additionally our team will be in Jamaica next week, now that they have had the damage assessment and impact information, to look at how our assistant technical support programmes can be rearticulated to address some of the capacity gaps of our short term lease,” he said.

But Collymore stressed that governments must act on flood management and assess land usage to mitigate against widespread flooding.

“You’ve seen the damage. There is wind damage and there is water damage and so we have to open our minds to the total potential impact.

“The thing about water damage (is) that it touches everything, everything. Roads, homes, crops, water systems. Whereas the winds sometimes knocks out power but you can still move around free and so on.”

He said it is necessary therefore for the region to get accustomed to this new threat and deal with it as quickly as possible.

“I don’t think it will go away soon,” he said. (CMC)

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