Policymakers have been Operating at Cross Purposes

Policymakers, over the years, have been operating at cross purposes by expanding the built environment at significant damage and cost to the environment, according to the executive director of the Mona GeoInfomatics Institute at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr.

He told The Gleaner that the mistake is that usually, parliamentarians make plans for infrastructural investments and housing developing plans, at great sacrifice to the natural environment, but, instead, need to take both factors into account when planning for the future.

Sharing information via a geographic information system (GIS), he gave The Gleaner a look into the past as well as the future, with specific emphasis on how land usage has changed over time. Going back to 2001, he showed some very clear distinctions in Kingston and Portmore, St Catherine. These include the reclaimed land by the Portmore Causeway, which did not exist then, as well as major housing developments, such as Caribbean Estates and Phoenix Park. Also among the infrastructure developments that were not in existence 20 years ago are Highway 2000 and Long Mountain Country Club.

PRESSURE ON SUPPORT SYSTEMS

Lyew-Ayee Jr then fast-forwarded to the state of housing development for September 2021, which showed that where before there had been many single-family houses, these were being replaced with multi-family developments, which is going to bring serious pressure to bear on a variety of support systems. These include, but are not limited to, traffic, water and emergency services, but as well as on matters relating to run-off from heavy rainfall events.

“You do see places along the Kingston Harbour, communities getting flooded out, Marcus Garvey Drive. All of these things have their origins uptown, and you have increased velocity of run-off coming because there is greater inflows into the upper gully expanse, as well as increased volume.

“Do not think for one minute that the Marcus Garvey flooding is caused by Marcus Garvey Drive. The flooding is coming from upstream; the gully system that feeds and passes by Marcus Drive are now coming in. Now, Marcus Garvey Drive drains themselves may need upgraded or maintaining of whatever. But also, it’s important to understand that the drainage system needs to not just focus on water, but needs also to focus on debris in the system as well; so maintenance of the system is critical as well.”

SEA LEVEL RISING

The scene next shifted to the computer modelling of the waterfront area of downtown Kingston, showing the sea level rise situation of at least one metre by the year 2100. The Digicel and the Urban Development Corporation offices were among the major buildings captured in the digital scenario.

Deputy Director of the Mona GeoInfomatics Institute, Dr Ava Maxam, explained the implications of this far-off, future scenario.

“The ground floor will be covered, and talking with some of these corporations, you realise that a lot of their electrical equipment is in the basement and on the ground floor that is at risk. So I think, visually, it’s more impactful instead of just printing in the newspaper or online. So this is why we produce these kinds of scenarios and simulations, so you have that greater appeal and impact.”

The real value of these computer simulations is in influencing developers to invest in mitigation measures, which is very often a hard sell, especially since it often means significantly more expense. This gives rise to a number of critical questions.

Does it mean that you are going to try and reclaim land in front of you on the shoreline? Does it mean that as a government, you are going to mandate that people build further inland and you don’t focus on development on your shoreline? What happens to a lot of that infrastructure and investment that have gone into your shoreline so far?

Lyew-Ayee Jr added that while the cost of inaction can be very costly, one must be careful not to rush to action, and should be very responsible in going forward.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com

Full article in the Jamaica Gleaner: https://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/news/20211110/policymakers-have-been...

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