EDITORIAL: A recipe for disaster

After writing about the ‘rain effect’ on our nation, and the fact that it is compounded by deficient infrastructure and the lack of a master drainage plan, we can’t say that we were shocked to hear the Director of the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS), Philmore Mullin describe the increasing encroachment of construction on our wetlands as a recipe for disaster.  We could not agree more. 

Mullin is puzzled as to why more residents are building in wetlands when they know the challenges and implications, and while we share his bewilderment, we are puzzled as to how they are allowed to build in the wetlands. The answer can only be one of two scenarios. Their plans are approved by the Development Control Authority(DCA) or they are building without permission. Neither is acceptable and both scenarios require an immediate remedy.

Let us be clear and state, up front, that we are not insinuating that the DCA is being reckless and is giving permission for anyone to build in the wetlands because we simply do not know. It could be that people take it upon themselves to build without going through the proper process and the DCA is unaware.  That said, while we are willing to accept that people may be building without approval, we still expect that the DCA inspectors will see the perpetrators and take action. If Mullin is aware of people irresponsibly building in the wetlands, we have a difficult time believing that the DCA is oblivious to this fact.

In very short commentary,  Mullin has given us all the reasons why it is dangerous to build in these areas and we are grateful for him bringing this situation to the attention of the public but we are confused as to why the director of NODS is the one taking the lead on this.  Doesn’t this all fall squarely in the lap of the DCA?  Doesn’t that agency ensure that people conform to proper construction techniques and build in suitable locations?

Mullin is obviously frustrated by the entire situation and is trying to avert a disaster as he makes his appeal in a very politically correct manner but we do not need to be as careful with our commentary. The wetlands form a significant and important part of our natural drainage and if you mess with the wetlands, you mess with nature’s way of dealing with water run-off. In times of drought, this may seem like a small issue but when the rains come, that small issue becomes a big problem – maybe a life threatening one.

It is easy to turn a blind eye to this problem but Antigua is a small place. A disruption of the natural drainage, without significant study, planning and execution, often leads to a domino effect.  Places that do not normally have flooding issues quickly turn into new wetland areas as Mother Nature finds an alternative. This leads to situations where people, who have followed the proper process and situated their buildings on dry ground, end up suffering for the irresponsible ones who do as they like and couldn’t care less about the effects of their actions.

The next obvious question relates to the solution and as far as we are concerned, the solution is as obvious as the question. The DCA needs to rein in this activity and correct the incidences of unauthorised building. If there are cases where the DCA has given permission for building in the wetlands, there is probably little that can be done but investigations into how permission was granted must be undertaken to ensure that it does not happen again.  

We know that Mullin is a busy man but maybe he should lend some assistance to the DCA in these matters. While we find it hard to believe that the DCA may be unaware of the sensitive wetland areas, we are willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the NODS Director could colour a master map for the DCA to show them where not to allow buildings to be situated or where to require impact studies that will guide design.

108 square miles is all we have in Antigua.  Be that as it may, there is enough land available that people do not have to build in the sensitive wetland areas.  We implore people who are building or are thinking of building in those areas to abandon those ideas because the potential disaster that Mullin talks about is real.  There is no doubt about it.

We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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