Post-Zeta the Question is: How much longer will we continue neglecting our environment?

Tomorrow, or maybe the next day, we will start picking up the pieces. Tropical Storm Zeta has passed us by, but according to the Meteorological Service of Jamaica, is “interacting” with a tropical wave. Sort of a double whammy, created by an intermingling of systems. There is a flash flood warning, and the rains may continue into tomorrow.

The latest on Zeta as of 10 pm this evening (Sunday, October 25). We are digging right into the Greek alphabet now, having exhausted all the cute Caribbean names that someone thinks up for the hurricane season.

The results have been fairly disastrous. We have had heavy rains and bursts of gusty winds for most of the past week (at least, in Kingston); five consecutive nights of rain. Drains and gullies are bursting, and we see photos – an increasingly familiar sight – of cars, stranded and pathetic, sitting in several feet of water on city streets. Then it gets worse: torrents of red earth in Manchester, and dirty brown river water swirling around homes in the Bull Bay area of St. Andrew – where residents were told to evacuate immediately as night fell.

Member of Parliament Juliet Holness and the Mayor of Kingston & St. Andrew pleaded with residents to leave the Nine Mile/Bull Bay area and go to a shelter, as the Chalky River overflowed its banks. (Photo: Twitter)

The hills of St. Andrew have not fared well, with numerous landslides. One ended in tragedy, with a man and his teenage daughter being buried in the mud as their house collapsed, yesterday.

Member of Parliament Juliet Holness (in blue) scrambled up the hillside where Romeo Leechman and his daughter Shanique died when their house collapsed. (Photo: Juliet Holness/Twiter)

Member of Parliament Juliet Holness spoke passionately about the residents building their homes in all the wrong places – on river banks and steep hillsides. But that seems to be only part of the problem, and frankly, it is not that they choose to build in these dangerous places. As the MP did also mention, these are poor people. In times of disaster, they suffer the most. From our comfortable homes, warm and dry, we watch them in dismay on our television sets, struggling.

I think this is what they mean by climate (in)justice.

A woman tries to save her belongings from floods in South St. Andrew (Kingston). Photo: Corey Robinson/Jamaica Gleaner

We are in another endless cycle of damage, destruction, patching up and trying to engineer our way out of these problems. I watched the Mayor of Kingston & St. Andrew Delroy Williams talking about excessive runoff of the water, as he stood with the grey sea roiling behind him, watching a back hoe desperately digging a channel so that a huge pond of flood water could flow into the sea. That was yesterday, before today’s storms arrived.

Desperate measures in Wickie Wackie, St. Andrew. (Photo: Twitter)

Why is there so much runoff? Could it be because so many trees have been removed, both for limestone quarrying (where whole sections of the mountains just behind Bull Bay have been simply chopped off), and for building? Could it be because the more concrete you have – roads, buildings, yards, walls – the harder it is for water to find a way to escape? There are no trees or vegetation to hold it and no soil to soak it up. Isn’t that logical?

And speaking of mining, could the removal of huge areas of topsoil, trees and vegetation – the destruction of a whole landscape – have something to do with the damage done in mining areas? During droughts, those living near bauxite mines suffer from toxic dust blowing off the mines. During rains – well, we see what happens.

My simple point is this: If we continue to abuse our environment, to “plan” unsustainably, or not at all; if we continue to cut down trees because they don’t fit in with our plans, and not replace them; if we continue to mine sand from river beds (the Rio Cobre, the Rio Grande for example), and blast mountainsides to obtain limestone to feed our building frenzy; if we destroy and degrade our coastal mangroves, that help to protect us from flooding and storm surge… Honestly, what do we expect?

I remember this prayer being said at an event organized by the National Environment and Planning Agency up in the Blue Mountains as part of the Yallahs-Hope Watershed Project. We need more than prayers now, as we confront climate change. We need ACTION. (My photo)

Are we going to just go on and on with this stuff, indefinitely? If that’s the plan, what do we think the end result will be?

And finally: When are our political leaders going to take climate change seriously? They have been very busy with COVID-19 and elections. But climate change was never going to take a back seat.

A landslide being cleared in Clarendon, yesterday. (Photo: National Works Agency)

I don’t mean making speeches about climate change (“Oh yes, climate change! Almost forgot…”) I mean, we must really confront it and implement sustainable, sensible, nature-based solutions. Protect the watersheds, and the “recharge areas” where the water filters from the surface down into groundwater, so we have less “run off.” In other words, can we have some climate action, please?

Can we really prepare for the next hurricane season, the next drought – from now? With knowledge and understanding, not just with haphazard man-made solutions, involving more concrete?

If we don’t start soon, we can expect more of the same. And after all we have endured in 2020 already, it cannot be “business as usual.”

Surely not.

Flooding at Spanish Town Hospital this afternoon. (Photo: Twitter)

3 thoughts on “Post-Zeta the Question is: How much longer will we continue neglecting our environment?

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