With sections of the country trying to recover from the damage caused by three days of flood rains, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has indicated that the Government will fast-track the implementation of a drainage plan for all major towns.
Speaking during a tour of flood-affected areas in St Catherine on Wednesday afternoon, Holness said a survey has already been completed for the master drainage plan.
Of the actual damage he noted, he gave hope to those who were affected.
“There has been significant damage, particularly to households. What I’ve seen is that (some) people have almost lost their entire households – furniture, motor vehicles, and equipment. There is only one place for the money to come from, and that is from the budget. The Government is responding. The team from the Ministry of Labour is on the ground doing their assessments, and assistance will be given,” was reflective of the central message he carried across the communities he visited.
The PM announced that the Government will be taking a tough stance on the matter of persons who continue to live close to river banks. He cited the negative impact of such living arrangements across several of the communities which he visited, and indicated that the recovery cost from such indiscretions was simply too much for the country to afford.
“The Government has already formed the view and will now try to put that into policy, to take a far more proactive approach to how we deal with the settlement of our land and where people choose to live,” he outlined.
“It is clear that we are experiencing weather events of greater intensity and greater frequency than before. It is indeed a challenge to the existing infrastructure. There already is a surveyor plan for Jamaica, and that has to be fast-tracked in terms of how we implement it. I think there are greater issues. Where people choose to live will now have to take on greater scrutiny. Informal settlements, and those things, cannot be allowed to continue in the future,” Holness declared.
“The areas we have toured, what we have seen is that they are close to river banks. Greater effort will be taken to ensure that the rules are enforced as it relates to where people are allowed to live, and we have to be far more proactive in ensuring that people do not settle in areas where they are at potential risk,” he elaborated.
In Sunnyside district near Linstead in the parish, the PM reflected on the circumstance in which a mother and her young children were forced to take refuge on a wall for an entire night into morning.
“I heard a heart-wrenching story of two twins, marooned for the entire night (Monday into Tuesday) outside their house, terrified that the water would have taken them and their mother away. Were it not for the bravery of the members of the community, we would have recorded some deaths (from the intense weather),” the prime minister said ahead of a report now emerging of a flood-related death in upper Clarendon.
In relation to the overall recovery efforts, the prime minister said the Government will have to make changes to the 2017/2018 budget to cover the repair cost.
“There is only one place for the money to come from, and that is from the Consolidated Fund; from the budget. So the Government has to now go and take a second look at its budget to see what areas we may have to reallocate (or) postpone expenditure on, because this is now a priority for people to recover from this disaster,” he stated/
Among the areas where the PM’s tour was scheduled to or actually included, were Sunnyside and Dover in St Catherine; Cave Valley, St Ann; along with Aenon Town, Frankfield, Ebony Park, Alley and Rocky Point, all in Clarendon.
Other members of the touring party included Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Dr Horace Chang; Minister of Labour and Social Security, Shahine Robinson; State Minister in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, Rudyard Spencer; Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Major Clive Davis; Manager of Communication and Customer Service, National Works Agency (NWA), Stephen Shaw; and representatives from other agencies among the island’s emergency services.
The country was hit by persistent rainfall over a period of three days into Tuesday, with the parishes of Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St Elizabeth, St Mary, Portland, and St Ann being most severely impacted.
The Prime Minister, who was in the Dominican Republic on an official visit, cut short his trip and returned to the island on Tuesday night, in order to tour some of the affected communities on Wednesday.