Monday, December 22, 2008

By the Rivers of Kingston

This entry was written over a year ago but it is just as relevant today as it was when first drafted.

It shouldn’t be difficult to accept that the more we build, the less our environment will be able to tolerate us. I was in Jamaica back in March 2007 and experienced what easily would be described as a typical rain day in the life of most Jamaicans. It was my drive through Kingston one afternoon that alerted me up to what little has been done in my hometown regarding the city’s ever expanding building-boom. The rain hadn’t seemed to be falling for 15 minutes when I turned unto Trafalgar Road opposite the pulse fashion house. Trafalgar Road can only be described as the Orchard Road of Singapore, the Madison have of New York or the Kensington High Street of London. You get the drift. Yet driving through what must have been about 10 inches of water seemed a bit surreal. We were bumper to bumper what few cars had been able to creep slowly along and by the time I turned off a minor road and unto oxford road. (50 meters from the magnificent Jamaica Pegasus hotel) my engine seemed to be on its last leg as it tried with all its might to overcome the 13 inches of water which turned the boulevard into a raging river. This was not to be…rather this needed not be the case. What Kingston was suffering was not only the effects of blocked drains through poor maintenance but in adequate foresight on the part of planners to specify adequate drainage for storm water that has resulted from the city’s building growth.

Concisely, the more we build the more we need to drain. Surface runoff is caused by the creation of pavement, driveways, tiled floors, sidewalks, etc. all of which act as substitutes for the previous lawns, soil, earth, ground which absorbed much of the water that would accompany a rainfall of this type. Where lack of sufficient drainage exists, water simply flows in the direction of its lowest point, which can then take hours to find a means of escape. With building over the past ten years taking on the scale which it has in Kingston, the city ought to have simultaneously invested in expansion and clearing of drains to accommodate increased runoffs. While the problem as I described affected only my ability to drive around comfortably, many imagine while others more personally recall the damage caused by a neglect of this problem: for homes as well as possible loss of life. Runoff from highways and major roads enter into low-lying housing areas; usually the only option afforded to those who lack the means to afford suitable locations. Many homes have been damaged through floods and residents have drowned by being washed away by the currents of these waters. Kingston needs less rivers and better solutions to protect those most vulnerable.

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