Before I launch into my thoughts about Tropical Depression/Storm Nicole and the devastating impact she had on Jamaica, let us pause to enjoy the beauty that is Stormy Weather by Lena Horne (which popped into my mind when I named this post)
Listen as you read, actually. Beautiful. And calming before I delve into Tropical Depression/Storm Nicole…
I will do my best to refrain from using “inclement” or “lashing” of “fury” during this mini rant-cum-questioning post. Why you ask? Because I’ve had my FILL of those words being used in articles and reporting from Jamaica…so has @anniepaul who wrote about the overuse of “inclement” in “Inclement Times: Tropical Storm Nicole.” Now, Miss Nicole, WHERE did you come from?
What wrath Nicole unleashed on Jamaica earlier this week. Her passage over Jamaica has made me wonder about two things: (1) the extent of damage especially along the island’s south coast and (2) what in God’s name is going on with the newspapers in Jamaica. Two very different things but I’m going to tackle both; the second will be in my next post.
Surely it’s unusual for a mere depression that strengthens into a storm to be so destructive? I mean, this wasn’t a hurricane…I don’t even think it was close to being categorized as such. As tweets filled my timeline about Nicole I realized that things were not going well. At. All. And I wondered just what the hell the country would have looked like if she was Hurricane Nicole, even a a category one? We couldn’t manage. We could not manage. My mind drifts back to some years ago and the passage of some hurricane, whose name I now forget, over Haiti and the massive destruction that resulted. Then, “we” agreed that deforestation in Haiti was really the main cause of the many landslides, death, and destruction…what will we agree, if that is at all possible among Jamaicans, is the cause of the damage and destruction in Jamaica post-Nicole?
The pictures I’ve seen of the destruction include roads split open, sand and silt in roads, bridges washed away or covered by water, and homes & business washed away. I am horrified, awed, and dismayed. I am also heartbroken about the homes that were built in and allowed to be built in precarious locations to house poor people…one home built on the banks of the Sandy Park Gully washed away during Nicole; there is little hope of recovering any of the occupants alive.
Several observations are instinctive and explanations and questions spring to mind. Jamaica’s infrastructure is in a woeful state. The drought that assaulted the country for much of this year is still being felt; I think that part of the reason Nicole was so destructive is because the ground was still hard from insufficient rain. Consequently, it could not absorb much of Nicole’s rain. There is also an issue, I think, with our gullies and other routes to the sea being blocked. So many causes for that but improper garbage disposal and environmentally insensitive construction spring to mind.
The split open road is Barbican Road, which I gather was being worked on the National Works Agency (NWA) but even then the damage is stunning. Was there an earthquake accompanying Nicole? There was a tornado so perhaps an EQ decided to join the party. Why not? Jamaica is party central. To me that split indicates several things: poor materials, poor maintenance, overuse of the road or the road not being built to withstand the traffic it must bear, or just a poorly built road. Same for East King’s House Road (pictured above) and for this road in McGregor Gully
The silt and sand washed into roads are either from a deposit meant for construction…or from our hills. If it’s the latter then we have a serious problem occurring on our hillsides that goes by the name deforestation. No, it’s not just about obviously stripped bare hillsides that we’re accustomed to seeing like here
or a deceptively beautiful pattern like here
It’s really about land being cleared for farming or housing or mining or logging in an unsustainable manner with an insufficient number of replacement trees being replanted. It’s about need and poverty and the immediacy of those things weighing heavy on the minds of the poor. It’s also about topsoil – you know, the bit of soil rich with nutrients, being washed away into roads and gullies and onto homes. Honestly I’d not really thought that this could be a problem in Jamaica because at the forefront of my mind is the vivid and lush green that I see was the plane approaches Norman Manley…more so than the hills that form the backdrop to the Carib Cement Company. But after Nicole? I am indeed concerned, and I think that we need to investigate what’s going on in and on our hills. I understand that right now people are trying to get back to normal, to sweep mud and water out of homes, to replant lost crops and replace dead animals…those things weigh heavy. But I’d hope – yes I still have lots of that where Jamaica is concerned – that from the smallest community all the way to Gordon House we begin to think about how we interact with our environment and change our behaviour where necessary.
As for the businesses and homes still being built on gully banks and in river beds…I am torn. I sincerely feel for the lives lost; I really really do. But I can’t help but feel angry that after all the rain, storms, and hurricanes that Jamaica has experienced that we still engage in such risky behaviour. Come on people! Water scares me (and no it’s not because I cannot swim) because it has no master; it moves in its own way, shifts intensity at its whim, moves at its own pace, and always rediscovers it course. A dry river bed now will not be that way when the rain falls. Do not build there or too close it its banks. It is dangerous.
Jamaica has a squatter problem, yes, but at the very least can we point people in the direction of safe land!! Or, can we implement some sort of affordable housing program that helps those who need the help to build livable and safe structures? Poverty has an astronomical price tag. How many more times are we going to shake our heads and mourn for lives lost because ramshackle homes slip into gullies or down hillsides whenever it rains? That kind of thing is not only emotionally constly, but puts extra strain on an already incredibly burdened economy and society.
As for businesses and other ventures: environmental assessments need to be done *cough* Palisadoes Road *cough* and planning permission denied when there is a serious threat either to the environment or to life & business because of the precarious environment where construction is proposed. I raised this issue of oversight by relevant government agencies before and I shall continue to bang that drum until I see change for the better. In my twitter exchange with @nigel_thomas about what to do with businesses that build where they should not – say at the Marketplace complex (pictured above in the collage) – I tweeted that they should not be allowed to build and should be fined for doing so. Massive and burdensome fines that, hopefully, will deter them from being dolts. (And yes, leave aside the issue of government management of fines and other revenue…for now.) We cannot continue to do the same things over and over, expect different results, and scratch our heads when we don’t get those results. That’s a recipe for failure, not an indication of persistence.
So many issues Jamaica has to tackle…so much to do but I do think that much of it is doable with a comprehensive development plan and strong, transparent, and sensible leadership. But it will also require an engaged and active population that doesn’t depend on a central authority to attend to all its needs but yet still demands accountability from that government regarding the things for which it is responsible.
Right now the country is still reeling I think because I don’t think this level of damage was expected. As the clean up and recovery continues I hope that communities don’t depend on the government to come in and “rescue” them. Though given the last 5-7 or so years of Jamaican politics I don’t know how anyone could still have faith in this crop of “leaders” to “rescue” them. Myeh. Instead, we need to do what we can and used to go about doing quite often for ourselves. Where safe and possible clean up your community, help your neighbour. Not to be nostalgic but this is how I remember Jamaica. After Gilbert, my community got together and helped each other to fix up and move forward, and I got the impression that this was the same in other communities. Now? I wonder if we remember what it’s like to help each for the sake of simply being kind and neighbourly…? I pray and hope that we do…and I pray that whatever other storms are forming off the coast of Africa tittup across the Atlantic and away from the Caribbean. Please, Lord, we need a break!
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