Five inches of rain may not seem like a lot, especially when you consider places that received triple or quadruple that amount during hurricanes Maria and Irma. In Barbados, however, those five inches can be the difference between normal traffic and total chaos, flooded streets and nightmarish tales of struggling to get home. It is a reality we live with on this island and complain every single time it happens. Where do we truly go from here?
At several times during the year, we can be guaranteed of tropical waves or upper level troughs disrupting business as usual with sustained, heavy downpours that lead to complete confusion on our highways. Not only do cars become stalled in deep water with people having to be rescued from their vehicles, but public transportation – especially to rural areas – becomes scarce. Tuesday’s deluge left many stranded in bus terminals since most public service vehicles stopped running, resulting in commuters reaching home several hours after they’d left work.
Many of us suspect that building has been done in natural watercourses which contributes to the problem. However, even in rural areas, where there are not many houses, water runs from canefields or idle land to settle on roads. Of course, that creates another challenge after treacherous potholes form.
Since it is a perennial problem we submit that there must be short-term and long-term approaches. In the interim, drains must be cleared regularly during the rainy season, especially since litter and mud tend to be big culprits. On a longer-term basis, however, it makes sense if we can somehow harness this water. It is highly ironic that in a country where so much rain can accumulate over the course of days, some rural parishes are plagued by water outages. One potential solution is through the Barbados Water Authority, which is promoting the sale of water storage tanks via hire purchase. However, there must be a way that the waters which flood our communities and neighbourhoods can be channelled, stored and used for energy or secondary usage. There is no need to reinvent the wheel either, since other communities or countries around the world have a similar problem. The Netherlands, a low-lying nation full of water, is famed for its innovative approach to dealing with high waters, even as it shifts its approach to water management in light of expected sea level rise.
We believe this future planning is something that must be talked about now, since it is increasingly clear that environmental disasters fuelled by a heating earth are no longer considered once-in-lifetime events. As host nation of Small Island Developing States conference in 1994, we have continued since then to sound our voice on our special peculiarities and vulnerabilities, a tragic story we see playing out now with territories in the Caribbean that have been devastated by hurricanes. Sooner rather than later, we must undertake a sustainable planning model which can help us mitigate some, if not all, of these disasters. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
These annual tests are like a dry run, no pun intended, for a main event. And so far, the feeling is that Barbados is not ready for any such calamity. Our future will be found in creative ideas that maintain our unique features, while providing some type of protection from the elements.