Editorial: Time for an about turn

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It is the civic duty of residents to become concerned, and to voice their dissatisfaction with a worrying trend that has become quite commonplace in Antigua & Barbuda: the denuding of hillsides and sloping lands to make way for housing.

True, although the lands in question are mostly privately owned, the overall fallout from the widespread clearing of any land, whether the reason for doing so is to build homes, or for agricultural purposes like raising animals and planting crops, the action will negatively impact the country.

The suggestion to adopt the generally acceptable and sensible approach of plant-ing trees as a means of resisting the detrimental effects of climate change seems to be largely ignored by the authorities and legislators. For time immemorial we have belaboured the fact that the indiscriminate clearing of hillsides in particular have been the root cause of soil erosion and extensive flooding that have been plaguing many communities, roads and businesses whenever it rains.

What obtains is that whenever an area has been designated for housing, that expanse would be laid bare of all of the trees and shrubbery. This approach is more evident when hills have been incorporated in the development scheme, and the whole area would be left totally void of vegetation.

A shower of rain usually causes soil erosion of extraordinary proportions that leave such plots devoid of topsoil, which is a vital ingredient along with the roots of the trees that keep the soil in place. Adding to the debate is that the problem of flooding is compounded when “new” residential communities have been allowed to develop on former agricultural lands.

Just yesterday, two contributors to programmes on Observer Radio lamented the ongoing clearing of land in certain villages and the dangers posed by the exercise, to include the blocking of drains and natural waterways. The burning question that comes to mind is: Don’t individuals, groups and companies require permission to cleartracts of land, in the same way that they need to get a permit from the Fire Department before they can light a fire to burn rubbish?

Therefore, we agree with the vocal few who continue to appeal to the government, especially the ministries of agriculture and housing, so that the best decisions can be arrived at when considering the placement of farmlands and extending communities for residential purposes. How long then would we be able to afford to continue with this disastrous, negative action? The person who has the answer should immediately move to the head of the class! Seriously, it is “high time”, as we say in local parlance, for our little country — which has the set goal of becoming the economic powerhouse of the region — to cease the shortsighted practice of utilising former agricultural lands for housing.

But while, at the same time, it is prudent to utilise our higher lands for housing, mainly because of the scenic aspect and that they allow for cooler, breezier environments, how prudent is it to get rid of the vegetation that has been there for hundreds of years? What is so wrong if we retain the original greenery and build our homes amidst the shade trees? Global warming is another aspect of climate change that has been deleterious to the lifestyle, existence even, of mankind — a situation that is the result of an excess of greenhouse gases. Since carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas, we know that trees mitigate against the presence of greenhouse gas, since they absorb carbon dioxide by removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the air.

Therefore, because of their tremendous value, our leaders ought to pay attention to, and change their approach to fit with the times. In order to have a greener approach, we will have to become progressive and live closer to nature and act before it is too late. We must remember that we have a duty to protect the land and our environment for the future generations.

We cannot afford to be tardy in carrying our responsibilities. The Good Book reminds us that there’s a time for every purpose; now, is the accepted time to plant, not to pluck up, or destroy our trees and vegetation, as many of them are valuable sources of food and also provide a measure of safety.

We need to preserve them in order do our little bit in slowing the process of global warming. Here, we add our voice to those who are calling for the wanton destruction of trees and shrubs to cease, and for our experts and technocrats in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry to put heads together to arrive at a solution that would redound to the benefit of all the residents of our twin island nation.

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