It might sound ominous and smack of fearmongering but it is hard to ignore the deep, sinking feeling that a major disaster is on the cards for Jamaica. Thankfully the tarots have not trumped that dreaded card on the country as yet but recent incidents should give all Jamaicans greater reason to be mindful of the possibility of major disaster hitting us.
The hurricane seasons of the past few years have been very kind but no one can sit easy until the season is over. We have also been spared a major earthquake despite the increase in the frequency of tremors in recent weeks.
Two hours of heavy rains hit Kingston yesterday and the city was brought to standstill – total gridlock in peak hours when persons were trying to get home from work. Once again, Marcus Garvey Drive along the coast was totally inundated. So bad was it, motorists had to get out of their cars and seek refuge as the waters rose dangerously.
Reports are that the situation was so unbearable that persons desperate to reach home, walked from Kingston to the outskirts of Portmore where conditions were more conducive to vehicular traffic.
State agencies and politicians were quick to seize airtime to offer various overworked explanations for the events that bared naked Kingston’s vulnerability to major weather events. Thankfully there was no loss of life but still, will there be any lessons learnt?
Blame has been flying like arrows, most of them aimed at the government and perhaps, justifiably so. One of the easy pickings was the number of road works taking place in the city.
While that may have been a contributing factor, it is foolhardy and dishonest to suggest that improvement works could have been the main factor. Think ahead to a year from now upon completion of the roadworks and it should be conceivable that with an improved road network with better drainage, such freakish acts of nature should not have the same result.
Where many persons have been dishonest is in refusing to lay the blame squarely where it should fall, particularly as it relates to Marcus Garvey Drive.
If the conduits and channels that are meant to lead rainwater from the city into the Kingston Harbour are continuously used as garbage receptacles, the problem will never go away. The fact is, Jamaicans are a nasty set of people lacking basic discipline and any sense of civic responsibility when it comes to the environment.
Just go by the bridges at Mannings Hill Road, Red Hills Road and other areas in upper St Andrew at the close of the business day and see how business operators habitually dump their refuse into the gullies.
There are many who package their rubbish from the lofty hills above the city and head to the nearest gully on the way to work. So the blame cannot be simply heaped on those who live below Half Way Tree and Cross Roads, as is often done.
Where the responsibility of the state and the local authorities come into question is in their lack of foresight to utilise technology to catch the culprits. There is no point, except maybe a political one, in spending money on drain cleaning programmes, if as soon as they are cleared up, the same people resume dumping their rubbish the next day.
The Municipal Police, with the aid of surveillance cameras should be monitoring these spaces and prosecuting persons.
There can never be adequate preparation for major disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes, or even the days of rain experienced in Trinidad recently. But surely, a city like Kingston should be able to cope with a couple of hours of heavy downpour.
Our attitudes toward the environment must change…good attitudes are the best mitigating factors against natural disasters but at the rate Jamaica is going, it seems that indiscipline and nastiness will be the undoing of us yet.