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Sustainable management of disasters, environment

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Editor: Once again I have been challenged by another local natural disaster to make some suggestions for policies that would facilitate sustainable management of disasters and our environment – in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.{{more}}

As a country, we are at the crossroads of development – whether to develop as an ambitious people, struggling against circumstances and uncultured habits to shine as an example of a post-colonial Caribbean civilisation, or simply just bow to the colonial modelling of covert, cultural subversion, dependence, limitations and non-achievement. I believe the management of our natural and built environment is undeniably an indicator of a people’s ambition for its own development as a civilisation.

For decades, I have observed that some home and business owners engage in wanton and reckless activities that degrade, destroy and damage the natural and built environments of our fair state. Examples of these irresponsible acts include the disposal of refuse “over the bank” behind the house or on the coastal bluffs; the deposit of grocery bags filled with trash, along the roadside, left to the mercy of the many stray dogs; the removal of community garbage disposal bins or receptacles by self-regarding persons; the trucking and shovelling off of boulders from the river beds and the sneaking of sand from nearby beaches are yet other serious violations of environmental regulations. The reckless cutting down of trees and clearing of hillsides “just for the view” is maddening. The disposal of durable goods (household appliances, old vehicles etc.) and other undesirable items in our water courses occurs virtually without thinking of the short and long-term impacts. The casual contemptuous flipping of the fast-food plastics and paper containers out of the vehicle and into the streets and drains occurs almost like an acceptable part of our culture and the indifferent abandonment of rubbish and scraps on our beaches.

The consequences of these actions are reflected in the severity of the natural disasters, particularly those induced by heavy rainfall and strong winds. The removal of natural wind-breaks (trees) makes roof destruction a “breeze” for the storm winds. Uninhibited runoff due to the removal of river boulders, surface vegetation and increased concrete surfaces will of course lead to accumulation of surface water without adequate drainage; inadequate simply because the garbage illegally disposed is now blocking the outlets. Flooding, coastal degradation, landslides, structural undermine and eventual collapse are all in some way related to how we manage our environment, particularly our trash disposal habits as a people.

Many of are guilty of resigning in silence, preferring not to get into “anything with anyone,” rather than rebuke the perpetrators of these acts. We need to be reminded that the people who destroy their environment destroy their own lives i.e. their civilisation – including the lives of their children. These acts are also committed without the faintest regard for our economic and social development, far less our legacy and the majority if not all of these acts are perpetrated by irresponsible individuals and entities without punishment by the authorities.

This type of behaviour or growing culture needs to be stemmed now; it cannot be allowed to continue. It has been argued that education is the key, but while that is so, we need to have supporting measures or have a comprehensive policy approach. This is not simply a problem for a single Ministry or Government Administration.

As such, I wish to suggest the following:

1) That government seek to enforce environmental laws and levies with seriousness and in a sustainable way. Collecting the levies or fines should be pursued vigorously so as to pay for the policing and enforcement staff;

2) That in the case of fees for planning and construction of physical structures – the fees should be used to sustain inspections (at least two) during the building phase. At these stages we can capture wanton denudation of the lands;

3) Provide at affordable costs and at convenient locations, identifiable garbage disposal bags for trash, without which the trash will not be picked up. A bag colour and trash-sorting scheme can be developed. Fines can be imposed for violation as well;

4) Penalties for serious environmental “crimes”- removal of boulders from rivers and farming in the water-sheds, beach-trashing etc. should be exemplary and heavy enough to be a deterrent;

5) Utilisation of a neighbourhood watch system, in collaboration with community groups, can also be pursued. This policy can have multiple benefits when it comes to environmental literacy and rekindling the community spirit of assistance and environmental management;

6) In cases where owners have over-grown property contributing to environmental damage or health problems, appropriate finance recovery measures should be adopted after the authorities have cleared the vacant lots, removed the derelicts, or cut threatening trees;

7) That communities and central authorities continue to look for creative and sustainable ways to encourage compliance with environmental regulations and environment-friendly activities by households and businesses alike.