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Our National Essence for Sale – Part 3

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Fri May 10, 2013

by Louise Mitchell-Joseph and Vonnie Roudette

With power comes obligation

The token gestures offered under the guise of “community caring”, such as planting a few trees, having destroyed a mountain, is an insult to the intelligence of Vincentians. If I were to destroy your home and offer you some windows as compensation, you would justifiably call me a sociopath. Yet, this is the equivalent of what is happening to our landscape. Our mountains in their natural state stand in synergistic relation to the bays and oceans. Together they comprise our watersheds, ecological subsystems of the islands.{{more}}

Any interference to part of the watershed will impact the delicate balance of all its other parts, be it through deforestation, sand dredging, changing the course of the river, road construction, residential housing development, or farming on hillsides.

The erosion of topsoil and associated flooding of rivers caused by deforestation and unsustainable farming practices is widespread. Three years ago I (VR) witnessed the clearing of a saman forest for banana cultivation. I appealed to the person in charge (a professional person farming in his spare time) to leave some of these ancient trees in place, to benefit crops and fertility of the land. This majestic tree provides partial shade, nitrogen fixes the soil, retains water in the soil and its falling leaves provide a natural fertilizer for crops, which have been proven to grow particularly well beneath such trees. The cultivator dismissed this information. After I saw the last tree cut down, I then pleaded with him to dig a contour ditch to protect his cultivation and the road below from certain flooding. Again I was ignored. In the next heavy rain, his freshly dug banks were washed way and the road flooded and severely eroded. Three years later, after repeated flooding, the farmer finally dug a contour and the water provides irrigation for the field and other farmers’ crops. The road remains in disrepair and the topsoil, saman trees and the ecosystems they supported are gone. How long will it take for us to learn these obvious lessons? How much must we destroy before we start to protect what cannot be replaced?

The environmental damage caused by dredging the seabed (a common authorized, but unmonitored practice on Canouan) is not easily reversed. A piece of coral that took 200 years to grow can be destroyed in five seconds. In our lifetime, that coral cannot be recreated. Those responsible for such destruction should be fined in excess of the cost to reestablish the environment to allow the coral to grow back over time. In complete ignorance of our ancient heritage of environmental consciousness, we currently invite destruction of our delicate living systems on land and sea, by those who plunder our resources.

On a recent walk in Bequia to Adams Bay, I (LMJ) was stopped in my tracks by four big stones blocking my right of way on the public road. I asked myself, “Where is law, where is order? Where is our dignity? How can our right to access our islands be eroded so quietly and only the wind knows what or why?”

And ever since, the questions keep coming: If I don’t want to import sand for development, and despite the law to the contrary, I dredge the local sand over and over again; should I be rewarded or penalized? If I lease Crown Land, can I mine it without permission? And if I do, what is my penalty? What about our women elders who used to pound the stones, day after day, making a daily bread? Two crushing plants have replaced them. Is this the kind of development that we want on the Rock? Admittedly, the women may be promised work, but is it likely that they will be treated with dignity if developers don’t consult them before removing their traditional public right of way?

From Canouan to Bequia, and up to the mainland, the contours of our islands are changing overnight. This is not the effect of gradual climate change. It is due to the actions of unenlightened developers who have no regard for what shape our landscape once took. One morning one awakes to see a new groin stretching into the water, a hillside missing, natural habitats destroyed, our essence eroded. What happens to the pelicans, turtles, parrots and other indigenous creatures whose habitats are suddenly removed? They were here long before us, but are dwindlng into extinction like the tri-tri. Are we misguided enough to think human beings will thrive where our flora and fauna cannot?

Whilst our islands do need foreign investment, we must direct it with consciousness of the interdependence of natural living systems towards a vision of productive sustainability.

When our developers are given sweeping powers to act without recourse to, or permission from central government, they must be aware that they carry a great fiduciary duty to future generations through implementing design solutions that protect environment and heritage. Where our developers exercise power without the commensurate responsibility in societal obligations, then those powers must be rescinded.

Development undertaken without respecting the dignity and customs of the people whose lives are affected, negatively impacts communities. Growing resentments, dependency and social segregation are the noticeable effects that create greater hardship for generations to come. This is not sustainable development.

With the sparkling night lights of the development in Buccama, the tri-tri that once made their way downstream in the dark moon to the ocean mouth, are confused and have disappeared. The river no longer flows along the course of our ancestors. The rhythm of its heart is lost, as it now pools, almost motionless, where it once flowed freely, organically. Are we the architects of the destruction of natural rhythm? Yes, we are. Instead of trapping tri-tri, have we trapped ourselves? Once the delicate rhythms become silent, they do not come back. (We know) we will miss the tri-tri for more reasons than the eating.

And what about the tourists – would they love to watch tri-tri fishing under the flambeau? Would they love the rich stories filled with vernacular references that form the fabric of island life? Would they delight to see tropical flora and fauna protected in natural habitats? We think so.

Our youths deserve to know that they and their islands possess the essence that could once build sustainable local enterprises, eco-commerce, food security, an eco-tourism product, rich and diverse cultural expression.

Who will tell them? Who has the will to protect and reclaim our national essence?

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