Friday, August 13, 2010

Let Freedom Rain?

"To enjoy freedom we have to control ourselves."

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) British novelist and essayist.

This is a month bracketed by two contextually similar and aptly august occasions in the national calendar: Emancipation Day and Independence Day. These are celebrations based upon the concepts of freedom, self-determination and all the ideals, possibilities, and buoyancy attendant with such notions. We commendably celebrate these occasions with gusto: historic achievements which, even in the case of emancipation, were notably not marked by the bloodshed of our forebears. While assuredly, this is welcome to note, in another perspective some posit that these somewhat ‘free’ freedoms we acquired, point somehow to an ethos absent of profound appreciation and value for that which is among the most sacrosanct aspects and aspirations of humankind. Our celebrations of these events therefore, become construed by some, as mainly a reflection of our penchant to make celebration of any circumstance, great or small, and we, as a people, more blithe than indomitable.

Nonetheless, sandwiched between these momentous occasions, thus far this month, we have been beset by weather conditions and deluges therefrom, which seem determined to fulsomely chastise us, on the one hand, for our blitheness or to test our indomitability on the other. And although we have suffered through these weather conditions before with similar consequential carnage, like the fittingly named American 70s soul singer, Swamp Dogg (no relation to Snoop), our patience, with the perennial plague of flooding, judging from media reports, columnists, and commentators, seems to have finally grown thin. Indulging in the Dogg reference a bit further, there is also the debate of how much the cause of the flooding is of our own making. Is this then, some ‘synthetic world’ of flood and folly that we have helped wrought upon ourselves through littering, wanton quarrying and deforestation of our hillsides, and the construction of office buildings, shopping malls, and homes apace, in the pursuit profits and votes, without much concern for the environment or making commensurate adjustments to the drainage infrastructure? The common-sense concept which we all intuitively know, yet ironically fail to heed, is that that the more we increase the impervious coverage of the earth, the greater, faster, and more intense rainwater runoff will be.

Freedom, as we all know, is also about responsibility. Truly, nature, inclusive of some of our low-lying topography is a definitive contributor to our present predicament, but we must also acknowledge our own actions and, as well, inactions, as contributing to our diluvian troubles and do all that is necessary to minimise and abate our flooding problems.

Colm Imbert, the previous Works and Transport Minister, raised the prospect of collection or detention basins as one solution to the flooding problem, albeit describing constructing and allocating them as expensive and time-consuming. But given these attributes, wasn’t it perhaps best we had examined and implemented this idea sooner rather than later, given all the costs in reparation that have to be undertaken now, and particularly when prices for anything in this in the country, once proceeding on an upward trend, hardly seem to go down again? And why wait too, when this is a perennial problem that has been spreading to areas that previously suffered no flooding as the impervious coverage of the country increases?

In fact, the use of collection, detention basins or holding ponds, is one of the older and well-known methods of what is more widely referred to as SUDS -sustainable urban drainage systems- that have been employed in cities in the UK, US, Canada, and other countries. Apart from collection basins, SUDS also includes use of pervious or permeable-materialed sidewalks, and permeable asphalt roads and parking lots to reduce the volume (thus intensity) and pollution of storm water runoff. SUDS are beneficial in that they aim to reduce runoff and preserve the natural water or hydrological cycle (precipitation, absorption, and evaporation etc.). Changes in the hydrological cycle can have significant impact on the availability and quality of drinking water as well as impact on wildlife.

Of course, a major cited problem for our recurrent flooding woes is littering. The current administration started off with a Clean and Beautify T&T Day, held just over a month after being elected to office, much the same as the NAR (National Alliance for Reconstruction) administration did under Prime Minister Robinson, back in 1986. Similar to 1986 as well, this recent initiative was also a success, attracting widespread popular support. The administration however, perhaps in partnership with corporations and non-profits, must keep up the focus on maintaining a clean environment as a never-ending as opposed to a typical local nine-day wonder, if we are to seriously address preserving our environment and living conditions.

With respect to recycling, laudably, there are several government and private initiatives in operation, although these are limited by collection material, areal scope or both. Some companies engaged in such activity include Republic Bank (Make a Valuable Deposit), Carib Glassworks Limited (CGL) and Plastikeep. The WeCan Waste/Recycling & Urban Enhancement Initiative (think of those large rectangular stainless steel waste-bins on the sidewalks in Port of Spain) launched by the Port of Spain City Corporation in 2007 for a cleaner nation’s capital, from all appearances, seems to have had some success. The initiative has also spread to Arima, Chaguanas, Point Fortin, San Fernando and Tobago (see Guardian story). As of yet though, there is no fully comprehensive household recycling collection service in the country. This ideally is where we need to get to.

Trinidad and Tobago is a place of free and fun-loving people. David Rudder reminds us in his Ganges Meets the Nile, that we are ‘one lovely nation under a groove,” but the recent floodings have put many a sorry song into the hearts of many of our fellow citizens across this land. We are thankful to all those individuals, nonprofits, and corporations who have freely given of themselves in helping those who have suffered loss. But lest we forget, the wet season is still far from over: let us all do what we can to lessen the flooding and lighten the hearts of those whose lives the waters may leave stranded.


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