DANISHA SORNUM

Fond du Sac, Riche Terre, Baie du Tombeau and other regions of the north were submerged within minutes. When it happened for the first time in 2013, it took the country by surprise. The then Labour government allocated a compensation to each family that was impacted; the National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Centre was set up; and a budget was planned for the construction of drains across the country, particularly in the most affected regions. Within 6 years, the same regions were flooded not once, but three times. There is absolutely no justifiable excuse for the blatant unresponsiveness of the government. The incompetence of our elected and nominated few at the head of our institutions to deal with situations of environmental and human crisis couldn’t hit us harder.

We have reached a point where piecemeal solutions won’t suffice. What has happened in the North three times now will repeat itself, and more regions are set to be affected. To reiterate the obvious, climate change is real. And when Mother Nature strikes, all of us on this small piece of land are very vulnerable, not to mention that the poorest of our population are the most at risk. Our decision-makers can no more pretend to be deaf and blind and continue with policies that hurt the environment, that favour the haves over the have nots, and that perpetuate environmental, social and economic injustice. Disaster risk management is a matter of choice- it is about who we elect to make decisions on our behalf; it is about where and how we build our homes and how we develop our cities; it is about how we manage land as a resource; and it is about how we educate our children to be responsible citizens.

The crises we face today are the result of erratic town and country planning. Land is very limited making competition among land users harsh. The majority of the population is living in jam-packed areas, while an elite economic few enjoy the luxury of space – a pattern of land monopolization that dates since the colonial days, and that has been largely untouched over the years. To make things worse, the government, under the cover of promoting development and investment, has given an unbridled license to ex-sugar estate owners to convert fertile agricultural land into so called smart cities, cities that are anything but smart. The government has given the green light to irresponsible land development that favours the economic elite, pushing the vast majority of the population into a land and housing crisis. Exorbitant land prices due to speculations and unfettered sale of land to foreigners; the squatting of beaches, wetlands, and fertile agricultural land by developers; the destruction of natural waterways; the unregulated felling of trees that are our protectors against natural calamities – all of which render risk disaster management inefficient. There is no way we can prevent further damage to the community if we continue down the path of such reckless land development that generates nothing but smart ghettos that will be hard to bring down.

We do need to build a network of drains across the country. But that’s not the happy end to the story. We also need to make sure that our policies promote green development. Erecting supposedly smart cities while neglecting existing villages and towns that are falling in decrepitude under the weight of over-crowdedness and lack of planning, will only make risk disaster management harder. The new fashion, which is to build absorption pits in the middle of the road, is ridiculous. We need to invest in re-engineering our villages and cities so that they adapt to emerging climate challenges. Government needs to regulate how houses are built, how new cities are created, and how agricultural land is managed. In a small country like ours, the promotion of gated communities is nonsensical. While the rest of the world is moving towards green construction, encouraging communities to plant trees and be environment conscious, on our end, we are erecting the highest walls we can around our houses and cutting trees that naturally absorb rain water. How many of us are conscious that our sea levels are rising twice as fast as the world average, at 5,6 mm per year? The coast is threatened, and those who have turned Environment Impact Assessments into a joke, allowing cities to be raised on wetlands, and without respecting the 30-metre distance from the high water mark, will have to bear the cost in the years to come.

Sustainable land management is key to preserving our ecosystem, combatting climate change, and creating a safe living space for our citizens. The mother of a seven months old baby should not have to fear for the safety of her child. We should not have to year in year out hear the cries of distress of victims of environmental crises. Yes, we are extremely fragile as a small developing insular state. That’s reason enough for us to take corrective measures to ensure the present and future generations thrive in a safe environment.