The trinidad Guardian / Last week protracted rainfall led to severe flooding and what can only be described as a humanitarian crisis in various parts of Trinidad. First in St Helena and Las Lomas in the East; then Barrackpore, San Francique, Debe, Penal, Siparia, and Woodland in the South; followed by El Socorro, St Augustine, Mayaro and Rio Claro. It is unfortunate that the true level of devastation, destruction and desperation of the people was not the focus of national reports.

Thousands of homes were devastated. People, including the elderly, lesser abled and children were stranded without food or drinking water. Going to the communities in San Francique and Woodland, never in a million years could we have prepared ourselves for what we witnessed. Homes flooded, under water, marooned-it was terrible to behold. People cut off from everything, with their beds, furniture, stoves, fridges, washing machines and vehicles destroyed, the water supply likely to be contaminated, no clean dry clothes, or medical supplies. Alone at night in the darkness, solitude in a way never imagined.

So why was it left to private citizens throughout the country-locals, neighbours, family members and friends-and charities and the business community to do the job of the authorities?

Why did Central Government, the regional corporations, MPs for the stricken areas and councillors, who have the power and resources to address the situation, not come together to coordinate a proper relief programme? Why did the Government not step in and lead this relief/rescue effort? And where was the ODPM?

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realise that short-term basic measures, like deploying the Defence Force and regional corporation trucks and personnel to assist people in remote areas and setting up shelters in schools and community centres, in advance, would have gone a long way in alleviating the suffering people were going through. Save for the Army personnel in Woodland, who were professional, polite and helpful, but alone in their two trucks in their quest to bring relief, there was no coordinated effort.

It is a shame and disgrace that to date those who are suffering in the wake of this disaster will have to continue to fend for themselves as some politicians continue to capitalise on the plight of the people without offering any plausible solution to prevent such a disaster from happening again.

So how did we get here? The disaster in Oropouche, where in some places the water was five to seven feet high. A perfect storm of unregulated structures-shifting away from homes on stilts to flat houses on lands filled to replace rice lagoons after desecrating the hills-together with a poorly engineered segment of the highway desecrating a lagoon and interfering with watercourses, and incessant rain, all led to the devastation.

It is clear we are not equipped to deal with the type of flooding we saw last week, or with any natural disaster. The ODPM is a failure. There was no visible co-ordination of State entities-other than the Army-in any of the places which I saw affected by floods.

They say actions, or in this case, the lack thereof, speak louder than words, and so it was beyond disgraceful, cold and insensitive that the Prime Minister-after five days of silence and invisibility-responded by visiting one area, Mafeking, before leaving the country. Why bother at all?

Moreso, how does “touring” address the destruction at hand? Unless something is done, what happened in the last two weeks will reoccur again and again forever.

There is no way out of this unless independent experts are brought in to show us the way forward, without the self-interest and unjust enrichment of the politically connected controlling the process.

Until and unless we deal with the flooding disaster of the last two weeks without political and vainglorious players, we are doomed to suffer a repeat. Let us not wait for the loss of innocent lives before we do something to prevent this kind of humanitarian crisis from occurring again.

Mickela Panday


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