The need of the hour

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The deluge that swept across our fair shores on Monday and yesterday, promises to be with us for a while yet. Mr. Dale Destin, the Acting Director at the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Service, has cautioned that the next 72 hours could be similar to the last. To be sure, Mother Nature can be whimsical and capricious. She has a mind of her own. No wonder that our Met folks seem to have been caught a bit by surprise with the intensity of the rainfall. In some areas of Antigua and Barbuda, especially the western portions of the island, as much as 12 inches of rain fell in a few short hours on Monday afternoon/evening.

We ascribe no blame to the Met office folks. We understand that weather forecasting is an inexact science, and that the likelihood that the forecasters will get it wrong is the nature of the forecasting beast. We have seen that even in countries like the United States, for example, forecasters have waxed lyrical about the ‘enormous’ snow amounts to fall on a given day, only to meekly return the next day to proffer excuses about ‘a weakening of the system’ or ‘a shift in direction,’ when the ‘enormous’ amounts of forecast snow do not materialise.

On the other hand, we ascribe all the blame for massive amounts of flooding to this hapless administration. This is a happy-go-lucky regime that has come up short in so many areas that when roads began to crumble and businesses and homes began to flood, on account of clogged drains and broken infrastructure, only those who’d been living on Mars for the past six years were surprised. After all, this is a regime with a disturbing lack of vision and foresight; this is an administration that routinely fails to plan for the er, . . . well . . ‘rainy day.’ (Pun intended). Indeed, what has happened in this weather event – the blocked and broken drains, the inadequate drainage systems, the flotsam and jetsam everywhere, is a metaphor for this administration. And much as Covid-19 undressed this administration, revealing its holey ‘drawers,’ this weather system is giving it a much-needed bath.

Of course, the dramatic pictures making the rounds tell the story of an administration ‘out of its depth.’ (Pun intended). We’re talking about the silly pretentious patches that have been used as a bandaid to repair many of our roadways. They have all been washed ‘a-guassa.’ The tons of garbage  left lying about, and the failure to clean the drains and gutters, have resulted in extensive flooding in a number of areas. For example, we received the following from a distressed resident of Cassada Gardens#2: “Please let the authorities know that the people in Cassada Gardens #2 cannot exit their homes; the gutters are clogged, so all the water is in our homes.  We need help here, please. We are at Jim Daddy’s road.” Hmmm! Of course, scenes like the above-mentioned, and the desperate cries for help, played out all over Antigua and Barbuda. From Grays Farm, where “The big gutter down in Greenbay, de water nar go no way” [King Obstinate, COMING DOWN TO TALK TO YOU], to the Paynter’s new housing project, where most of the new homes are seriously flooded, the incompetence of this administration has been placed in stark relief. (See the collapse of the Little Creek Bridge, possible because of lack of maintenance, a feature of this administration).

And there is more. A fine gentleman from the Sir George Walter Highway area (and we are withholding his name to protect his identity) has been hardly impressed by the shoddy, and inordinately delayed work being done there by Bahamas Hot Mess (BHM). He has sent us photos in the past of the work that would warrant a big fat ‘F’ in any other part of the world. Anyway, it appears that he is prescient, and after Monday’s deluge, here is what he reported, along with damning footage: “There are drains here with no protection for sidewalk integrity. In a matter of a few months the embankments will erode allowing the sidewalks to fail. The sidewalks are starting to crack before they’re even finished. And there are much, much more defects. Who is monitoring this work on the tax-payers’ behalf?” Good question. It appears as though no one is. BHM is a law unto itself. This is a rogue outfit, according to the good Minister of Works, Lennox Weston, who, in a fit of pique, sought to read them the riot act, this time last year. They summarily gave him the middle finger, and since then, he has uttered not a word, much like a sheep before its shearer is dumb. Good grief!

When the waters recede from the Sir George Walter Highway and the Friars Hill Road, the full extent of the crappy work done by BHM will become evident. We’re talking about two brand new roads, constructed at great cost and at enormous inconvenience to the longsuffering people of this fair State, over a period of nearly 3 years, never mind the fiddling and dithering by our Antigua Public Utilities Authority. The rehabilitation of these roadways have taken longer than it took to construct the Empire State Building (2 years) and the Chrysler Building in New York (1 year). Mind you, all the fancy edges and sidewalks have been constructed without any steel, the cement-bag culverts have been thrown together in a most unsightly manner, and it appears that no serious provisions have been made to mitigate the age-old problem of flooding on those roads. Sigh!

Mercifully, in this moment of crisis, the worst weather event here in Antigua since Hurricane Lenny in 1999, we have seen Antiguans and Barbudans coming together in a very real and admirable way. We have heard stories of neighbours checking on each other, some stopping to help stranded motorists in the middle of swirling flood waters. Kudos! Oh, the kindness of strangers!

The political leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP), and candidate for the St John’s City East constituency, Harold Lovell, had this to say, and we believe that it sums up the circumstances in which we find ourselves: “Fellow citizens and residents of this beloved nation of Antigua and Barbuda, my heart goes out to all who have been impacted, whether minimally or severely by the weather that has been affecting us since yesterday, November 9. Today, I visited the constituency of St John’s City East to see and hear first-hand, how my people are faring, and I have seen and heard from my colleagues as well how their constituents are suffering. Undoubtedly, this latest blow, which is still not over, has been most unkind to the nation, whose economy already has been ravaged by the effects of Covid-19, with the tourism, aviation and entertainment sectors taking the hardest hits. Although the assessment has not yet begun officially, even a casual glance will show how deeply affected individuals, families and communities will be by the collapse of public infrastructure and the damage to homes and commercial properties. Farmers, both crop and livestock, have been hurt, vehicle owners have also suffered. Businesses have lost inventory they can ill-afford to write off. And for the thousands who are without insurance or other assistance, catching themselves at this time will be an uphill task. These are our realities today, and very likely, for many tomorrows to come. But I encourage each one of us – citizens, nationals, immigrants and members of the diaspora alike, to remember who we are as a people; what we have already come through, and what our ultimate goals are for ourselves and this nation. I implore you all at this time of almost universal loss and need to become your brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, and each others neighbour, no matter how far apart physically we might be.” Indeed!

Lovell ended by invoking the grace and mercy of the Almighty, and pledging that he and his UPP team will join hearts and hands with all Antiguans and Barbudans in meeting and surmounting this new challenge. We here at NEWSCO pledge the same. It is the need of the hour.

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