By Orville Williams
The National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) is working alongside the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to reinforce flood management measures in communities across Antigua and Barbuda.
The collaboration, via a two-day workshop, is targeted at community groups, government agencies and NGOs, with the goal of supporting resilience-building in the communities and mitigating the impact of flooding.
“We’re working with the WMO to assist persons from our volunteer base, who are in the communities working with all the various community-based organisations, youth groups, sports groups [and] schools to have a multi-stakeholder approach in terms of building resilience,” Acting Director of NODS, Sherrod James, told Observer on the sideline of yesterday’s workshop.
Along with district disaster coordinators, other participants in the workshop include the Agriculture and Public Works ministries, the Development Control Authority (DCA), the Department of Environment, the Emergency Medical Services (EMS), the Meteorological Service and the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA).
One of the most important elements of flood management is building sustainably, especially in flood-prone areas, and this is certainly very important in Antigua and Barbuda at present, with numerous development projects currently underway.
According to James, the workshop will address this issue and support persons, “to be able to identify potential problems – looking toward mitigation – and ensuring that development happens in a sustainable manner”.
The importance of sustainable development was reiterated by the Deputy District Disaster Coordinator for St Mary’s North, Cassandra Murray, who spoke on her experience in one particular flood-prone area.
“We have a problem where people build in the Cashew Hill floodplain…and the problem is, they didn’t build on stilts. So, every time there is a rain incident, the water [runs] through the house.
“The way to mitigate [that situation] is, if you know you’re going to build in a floodplain, you build high.
“Also, you have to keep the drains clean and keep debris out of your yard, because if there is a flood, the debris is going to float, block the drains and make the flooding worse,” she explained.
And the issue of proper drainage is not only affecting residents in areas of Antigua, but also in the sister isle Barbuda – based on word from Daphne DeSouza of the Barbuda Council’s Disaster Office.
“We really don’t have a lot of drainage, [but] what we do have are sinkholes. So, when we get heavy rains, [the water] gradually recedes due to the number of sinkholes that we have.
“We’ve had some problems in the past year or two, however, because people are building, living more out of the village now and they’re blocking up the sinkholes, maybe for safety reasons. That can be dangerous, because then we won’t have a clear path for the water to go.
“What we’ve been trying to do is clear the [sinkholes] that people don’t live close to, so that the water can recede and just [flow out] to the sea,” DeSouza told Observer.
Discussing these types of important challenges and solutions is a key component of the NODS/WMO workshop, which – according to the participants – serves as a vital refresher course for many of the individuals and groups present.
They insist that the opportunity to collaborate, to share best practices and to gain new knowledge is near priceless, especially as we are in an already-active Atlantic hurricane season.
“I would say [this workshop] is very important, because I now have a different [understanding and] approach, not only from my perspective, but from the other members who are here.
“We’re all sharing our different experiences, so we’re all learning how to do things differently to get the same results,” said St Claire Jeffers, the Deputy District Disaster Coordinator for St John’s City East.
The two-day flood management awareness workshop, taking place at the Antigua and Barbuda Hospitality Training Institute, continues today.