In T&T: Building code consultant on Diego floods: Warning since March

17 August 2012

“Not about criticising. This is about finding solutions.”

The two lives lost in last weekend’s floods which ravaged Diego Martin and Petit Valley could have been saved had the relevant authorities heeded calls for immediate action in the constituency.

That was the view of quality control consultant and chairman of the Cabinet-appointed committee to oversee the formulation of a National Building Code, Shyankaran Lalla, who also headed a high-level team of engineers who called for urgent action in the Diego Martin constituency in March. In an interview yesterday, Lalla said warnings and recommendations about flooding in Diego Martin were conveyed to chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation, Anthony Sammy, since March. Sammy, he said, responded and sent letters to then Local Government Minister Chandresh Sharma and ODPM officials requesting assistance but there was little action. He said a roundtable meeting was convened on March 6 on the development of a public policy on sustainable infrastructure and recommendations for the restitution of areas affected by landslides and landslips. The team of engineers, consisting of Lalla, geo-technical engineer Dr Derek Gay; Dr Ian Khan Kerhanan; structural engineer Mark François and Dr Myron Chin proposed the establishment of a multi-disciplinary committee for the development of the policy. The committee would then advise the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure.

In a letter to Lalla, dated March 15, Sammy wrote: “I was advised by the chief executive officer of the ODPM that foreign experts (along with the local experts) would be brought in and, via helicopter etc, survey the affected areas as I and my engineer, Keevan Lal, did in November of 2011. “Following the above, a report would have been generated and submitted to the Prime Minister and her Cabinet so that quick and decisive action could be taken to prevent a reoccurrence of last year’s tragic events. To date, I have not heard anything further.” Sammy’s letter added: “I raised this matter at the meeting on March 6, 2012 and whilst I fully support a national drive in this direction, there is an urgent and critical need for action to be taken in Diego Martin. “Might I at this point respectfully suggest that the Diego Martin situation be used as a pilot project.” Lalla said the recommendations were not implemented and warnings were not heeded. He added: “They had from March into July, four months, within which to take action… to do something and had they taken full action the lives of those individuals would have been saved. A problem of a disaster still exists.” While Lalla acknowledged that Government had established a building code and was taking a Planning and Development Bill to Parliament he said: “Before these come into play and the law gives effect to it somebody has to do something in the interim in providing short-term solutions to the problems because more lives will be lost. “We are only playing lip-service to disaster preparedness and no one is taking action.”
Lalla appealed to Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar to intervene. He said: ”We would definitely like to meet with the Prime Minister and her team of technocrats to deal with the issue in an effective and efficient manner because to date the Minister of Works has failed to address the issue, in light of the fact that we sat with them and made recommendations to them that they failed to implement. We are not about criticising. This is about finding solutions.” A high price tag for damages arising out of the floods, Lalla said, could have been avoided. “We are saying  if the Government had acted, if they had taken proactive action we would not have been saddled with a bill of $109 million. All this is as a result of bureaucracy,” Lalla added. On Wednesday, Lalla, officials from the ODP, the regional corporation and Ministry of Works and Infrastructure convened a high-level meeting at the ODPM’s office to discuss the flooding and the way forward. He said it was agreed that “we must work together in providing short-term solutions so it would significantly reduce the impact of a disaster if rainfall would occur again.” The need for discussion, he said, was paramount. Solomon Britto, 65, of Richplain and Everald Bentham, of Upper La Puerta Avenue, were killed when they were caught in their homes by raging floodwaters. Britto was laid to rest yesterday. Lalla said fingers were being pointed at unplanned development but, he said: “Perhaps more attention should be paid to people doing slash-and-burn agriculture.”
He said a lot of the unplanned development on the hillside had no drainage to carry the water into the waterways.

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