|Reflections on Independence
Published Thursday 18th September, 2008
This column was
conceived on Independence Day and the recent major flooding has given us
cause for reflection.
The Claxton Bay
flooding which took place on August 27 was completely unprecedented. For
those of us who did not experience the unusually localised and extremely
heavy rainfall, it was deeply shocking to see the images of water five
to six feet deep on the Solomon Hochoy Highway.
Of even greater
concern is the response the next day of Colm Imbert, Minister of Works
and Transportation, who explained that there was an exceptional level of
rainfall in that location. Minister Imbert went on to speak at length on
the negative effects of unplanned and unauthorised development in our
Let us be clear
here, the amount of rain that fell in Claxton Bay in the two or three
hours before the crisis was equal to about ten days’ rainfall. That
extreme would cause floods anywhere, so there are real limits to what
planning can achieve in dealing with natural disasters.
The vital point
emerging here is, to quote Imbert “…the unprecedented pace of
development, both at the level of the State and private sector, was
contributing to the flooding problem in the country.”
This episode is a
signal warning to our nation and we would do well to pay proper
attention. In previous issues of Property Matters we have used the
phrase “the planning deficit” to refer to the withered state of our
national planning system when one considers the rapid pace of physical
development. To restate the key issues, we need to locate this moment in
There was an
authoritative 1997 publication which cited some critical data on our
land: 57 per cent being forest, 34 per cent being agricultural or
reserved for that use. That leaves a total of 9.0 per cent of our
country’s land area being available for competing uses: housing, roads,
drains, schools, business, recreation facilities, other public
facilities and so on.
and something which we seldom consider, is that those limited lands also
have to cater for the needs of future generations.
unprecedented pace of development
We have never seen
such a pace of development in our country and there is obvious pressure
on those limited lands. The emerging picture is one of encroachment and
denial with definitions being changed as we go along. More on this in a
national land-use plan
adopted plan was approved in 1983 by our Parliament and it is in need of
There seems to be
no end to the capacity for ambitious announcements of many new projects.
We have ample funding and imported expertise aplenty for these. Clearly
they are priorities on the road to developed nation status.
obvious availability of resources, our government seems unable to make
planning a priority.
There is no way we
are going to achieve developed nation status without making the time to
plan our nation’s future openly. No way. The responsibility is ours and
we should consider a few further points.
Our key partners
in the race to development are foreign contractors and consultants from
France, Canada, China and the USA. In not one of the home countries of
those companies could this sort of unplanned race to development take
place. Not one. There is the real danger that we are in fact becoming a
laughing-stock for these development partners as we rush onwards. Many
vexed thoughts of the colonial past and the extent to which things
change, or not, are churning here, but we maintain the tone.
We have an ole
time wishing at certain points in our country for a sign. If Claxton Bay
is not a sign, we have to think again. The subsequent, widespread
flooding on September 7, in which a small child drowned is yet another.
Even on the
evening of September 15, we had the capital in gridlock for more than
three hours after two hours of normal rainfall earlier that day.
The silence of the
Minister of Planning, Housing and the Environment on all this is
troubling and we will be tackling the rationale behind the merger of
those portfolios in a subsequent column.
Minister, can we expect a proper process to review our national plans?
Can we expect that the full weight of the State, in terms of funding and
sourcing the necessary expertise from wherever, will be put behind this
the issue, what priority do you attach to addressing these concerns?
Silence is not an
option here, we have a nation to build, together.
Quotes as published
in the August 29 Guardian.
comments on the planning deficit:
In the interim,
Imbert said the Government intended to crack down on errant developers,
since unsanctioned construction had contributed to the flooding problem
in the country.
He said the level
of flooding spoke volumes about the need to enforce existing regulations
at his ministry, Town and Country Planning and the regional
absolutely no doubt that we need to improve our enforcement
capabilities,” he stressed.
are there, the standards are there, the engineering designs are
“What has happened
is that people have blocked water courses...They have built their homes
right on the banks of rivers.
“They have put
their boundary walls right in the paths of rivers and the enforcement
capability within Town and Country Planning, within the regional
corporations and within the Ministry of Works needs to be beefed up...
There is no two ways about it.”
Imbert said the
problem was of urgent importance.
“It is something
that we have to address very, very seriously and to take very firm and
decisive action against errant developers,” he added, predicting fallout
from the action.”
The Association of
Insurance Companies recently issued a statement:
become far too prevalent where this risk was once seen as minimal in
times past. Moreover, of greater significance is that flooding is now
occurring in urban and developed communities where losses can assume
catastrophic proportions because of the high values of properties and
frequency of floods even with normal rainfall suggests the inability of
the existing infrastructure to cope with the run-off of surface water
which is a reflection on the inadequacy of the planning process.
“The country is
paying the price for development and the insurance industry is the
sector most affected when it has to provide compensation to insured.
Insurance treats with unforeseen and unpredictable events but it is not
there to handle certainty which flooding has now become with the
policyholders that will be called upon to pay higher premiums and to
absorb increased deductibles as flooding risk is real and will not go
away unless there are substantial investments in infrastructure upgrade
and cessation of development in particular on higher ground. That
assumes that insurance will continue to be available since some
flood-prone areas could well be deemed as off limits for insurers.”
Afra Raymond is a chartered surveyor and a director of Raymond & Pierre
Ltd. Feedback can be sent to email@example.com.