Tue | Mar 2, 2021

Flood bill could double, says PM

Published:Wednesday | November 11, 2020 | 12:18 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
The collapsed walls of a house in Shooters Hill, St Andrew, present a stark reminder of the devastation wreaked in the eastern Jamaica community after rainstorms turned roads and yards into river courses on the weekend.
The collapsed walls of a house in Shooters Hill, St Andrew, present a stark reminder of the devastation wreaked in the eastern Jamaica community after rainstorms turned roads and yards into river courses on the weekend.

While not announcing a new estimate for flood damage to roads and other infrastructure on the weekend, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said on Tuesday that the new bill could surpass the more than $2 billion originally tabulated after the country was drenched by showers from Tropical Storm Zeta about two weeks ago.

And with the damage to parochial roads now skyrocketing to more than $1.65 billion, the Government could now be asked to find an estimated $5.7 billion to carry out rehabilitation works in the wake of storm-force winds from Hurricane Eta.

The landslide-prone Gordon Town main road could also be abandoned and a new thoroughfare built, the prime minister also said.

In a statement to the House of Representatives, the prime minister said that the Jamaica Defence Force has deployed its DART team to Bull Bay in St Andrew, where residents suffered devastation to property. The DART is the army’s Disaster Assistance Response Team.

DART will be working with the National Works Agency and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management to assist the residents hit hard by flooding.

Additional heavy-duty equipment is also being used to desilt the Chalky River, which was a source of flooding in the St Andrew East Rural constituency, the epicentre of the catastrophe.

With the latest bout of heavy rainfall, 48 people who were displaced by flooding had to be housed in shelters.

With weather reports indicating that Jamaica is not yet out of the woods in terms of more rainfall, the prime minister urged Jamaicans in flood-prone areas to find shelters if the country is severely impacted by a tropical wave forecast to strengthen in the central Caribbean by weekend.

Meanwhile, Holness has yet again signalled that the Government would get tough on the development of informal and illegal settlements.

“I am just sounding the alarm ... that we cannot have some of these communities continuing to exist in these areas in the face of the weather effects that are projected to happen on a cyclical basis,” Holness said.

“At some point, this nation will have to confront this, that because of political expediency we have allowed some communities to exist, but now, these communities are at risk. The people who live there need to ask themselves, ‘Is settlement by virtue of political affiliation worth my life and property?’” the prime minister said.

Responding to Holness in his capacity as opposition leader for the first time, Mark Golding cautioned the head of government against ascribing political motives to the construction of houses in flood zones.

“I don’t personally think that there is any political affiliation in that – that is a socio-economic problem,” said Golding, who faced dissent from government lawmakers.

Golding said that people living on marginal lands in vulnerable communities should not be construed as a political problem, but a national concern.

However, Holness said it was not his intention to politicise the issue.

“It is my intention to take away the political impetus,” he said, noting that the Government was ready to work with Jamaicans and the Opposition to facilitate relocation.