For the past few years, it seems as though this problem is getting worse. We can no longer sit back and enjoy the soothing sound of the rain beating against the windows or the delectable smell after the rains cool the blistering asphalt after a long day or week of sweltering sunshine. Now, we scramble to make sure nothing valuable is near the floor and no electronics are plugged in and out of reach of the disaster that we know is coming.
So, what is flood? Many of us have this idea that floods or flooding is simply, too much water around your house. People think that can be fun. Wrong! Flooding is a lot more than that. Flooding is extremely dangerous and has the potential to wipe away an entire city, coastline or area, and cause extensive damage to life and property. It also has great erosive power and can be extremely destructive, even if it is a foot high.
There are many types of flooding that can occur:
Riverine Flooding – This usually occurs when a river overflows its banks. It is usually due to the volume of water within a body of water, such as a river or lake, exceeding its capacity and overflowing its banks. It can also occur when the velocity of the river is so high that it flows right out of the river channel, usually at bends. We typically see this kind of flooding at the Caroni River and Basin. (pictured below)
Coastal Flooding – The sea can overflow flood defences such as sea walls, due to a heavy storm, a high tide, a tsunami or a combination thereof. Trinidad and Tobago recently experienced a devastating example of this when the Manzanilla/Mayaro sea wall was thundered and topped over by raging sea waters, taking the road with it.
Flash flooding – This is a flood that rises and falls rapidly with little or no advance warning. Flash floods usually result from intense rainfall over a relatively small area. This is the category of flooding that regularly occurs throughout Trinidad and Tobago, particularly the Port of Spain and the University of the West Indies. (south gate at the UWI below)
Urban flooding – This occurs as a result of land development. Permeable soil layers are being replaced by impermeable paved surfaces, through which water cannot infiltrate. This leads to greater runoff being generated, which can make rivers out of roadways and ponds out of car parks. Once again, we see this type of flooding in Port of Spain (pictured below). Since the capital is made up mostly of reclaimed land, the sea and rivers have been redirected. However, that can’t stop them forever.
When parts of the country flooded again and again, some looked to the hills, blaming deforestation on the elevated regions for the floods in the low-lying areas. Some focused on the drains, pointing fingers at the failure to maintain clear watercourses . There are many areas in the region that may be prone to severe flooding especially those areas where drainage is poor and dumping of rubbish is rampant.
Because of this the society is exposed to numerous risks of such flooding including a major health risk and hazard. But what really causes the constant invasion by flood waters? Is it just one problem or a combination of many? Floods can stem from a number of events both natural and human made, including:
Prolonged and Heavy Rainfall.- When rain falls for a prolonged period of time, the soil can become saturated. When water is unable to infiltrate into the saturated soil, it is forced to flow over the soil, thus increasing surface runoff. When rain falls heavily; the rain drops hit the ground with a force. This can cause the rain drops to bounce off the soil instead of infiltrating into the soil. The water from the rain is then forced to flow over the surface instead, thus increasing the surface runoff.
Deforestation – The lack of vegetation encourages water to flow over the surface rather than infiltrate into the soil thus increasing surface runoff. We see cases of this on a day to day basis. Whenever we drive to Maracas, past the Northern Range, there are clear signs of deforestation on the hilltops, which are being used for quarrying or urbanization (pictured below).
Poor land use practices – Slash and burn agriculture, over-cultivation and over-grazing eventually cause the soil to become infertile and unable to sustain vegetative growth. Consequently, the lack of green cover encourages water to flow over the surface rather than infiltrate into the soil. The Caroni plains is perhaps the best example of over-cultivation. From being used to grow sugar cane for a number of years, to now being used for rice and other produce (pictured below).
Urbanization – This leads to the replacement of permeable soil with that of an impervious layer of pitch and concrete, through which water cannot infiltrate. This results in increased surface runoff which leads to flash flooding.
Improper waste disposal– Oftentimes, garbage that is not properly disposed enters into drainage systems and clogs drains. This obstructs the free flow of the water that enters into these drains causing water to back up during rainfall flooding the surrounding area. A build up of garbage can also obstruct the natural flow of water in rivers and streams. Trinidadians seem to have a blatant disrespect for the environment, this can be seen by the hoards of rubbish that line the streets, river, streams daily. We see drivers throwing garbage out their vehicles on the highway and then wonder why our country floods every time a bit of rain falls (pictured below).
Quarrying – This is the clearing of land for the removal of aggregates (mainly sand and gravel) which is to be utilized in the construction industry. The action of quarrying leaves land bare and devoid of any trees and shrubs hence increasing surface runoff produced. This is not a new occurrence in Trinidad and Tobago. It seems as though there is a quarry everywhere we turn. Toco, Arima, Matura, Valencia and Santa Cruz just to name a few of the locations. – Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management
The Trinidad Express composed an article within which they interviewed the Caribbean Agricultural Research & Development Institute and its executive director. The article consisted of the causes of flooding in Trinidad and Tobago over the last 40 years. They noted “Data collected over a span of 40 years by the Meteorological Office at Piarco has shown that there has been no significant change in the volume of water, measured in inches, that falls year round. CARDI’s executive director, Arlington Chesney, said this data highlights the need for a proper development policy. “What has changed isn’t the rainfall, it’s our land management,” Chesney said during a recent interview. “It’s the same volume of water but, in many instances, it simply has nowhere to go and we get the level of flooding we have been seeing in recent years.”
Unchecked housing developments, the changing of water courses and denudation of the hills are among the causes cited for the poor drainage and flooding being experienced around the country during heavy rainfall. “
Where there’s flood, there’s dirty water and where there’s dirty water, there are many risks involved. Flooding brings about a whole catalogue of chemical, physical, electrical, psychological and biological hazards. Biological hazards can come in the form of infections due to bacteria that causes diseases and viruses. Flooding poses risks to people’s health and well-being. It causes a vast number of illnesses, and waterborne diseases such as- cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery and typhoid. It even leads to an increase in the amount of mosquitoes spreading malaria and other fatal illnesses.
Our drinking water may also be contaminated with various pollutants such as sewage, human and animal waste, and poisonous substances like oil, insecticides and other industrial chemicals. When persons consume this water they are susceptible to the waterborne disease which are very dangerous to life.
- Escherichia coli (E. coli) – Rod-shaped bacterium of the genus Escherichia that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms. Most E. coli strains are harmless, but some serotypes can cause serious food poisoning and are occasionally responsible for product recalls due to food contamination.
- Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS
- Leptospirosis – an infectious bacterial disease occurring in rodents, dogs, and other mammals, which can be transmitted to humans.
- Shigellosis – an intestinal disease caused by a family of bacteria known as shigella. The main sign of shigella infection is diarrhea, which often is bloody. Shigella can be passed through direct contact with the bacteria in the stool.
- Skin Infections
- Tetanus – Tetanus is caused by an infection with the bacterium Clostridium tetani, which is commonly found in soil, dust and manure. The bacteria generally enter through a break in the skin such as a cut or puncture wound by a contaminated object. They produce toxins that interfere with muscle contractions, resulting in the typical symptoms
Another type of hazard that one should be on the lookout for during flooding are physical hazards. Physical hazards are probably the most notorious dangers that are present during a flood. These can range from electrical hazards, water damage to the body and environment.
- Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, occurs when the feet are wet for long periods of time. Symptoms of trench foot include a tingling and/or itching sensation, pain, swelling, cold and blotchy skin, numbness, and a prickly or heavy feeling in the foot. Blisters may form, followed by skin and tissue dying and falling off. In severe cases, untreated trench foot can involve the toes, heel, or entire foot.
- Drowning – Flood water poses drowning risks for everyone, regardless of their ability to swim. Swiftly moving shallow water can be deadly, and even shallow standing water can be dangerous for small children. Vehicles do not provide adequate protection from flood waters. They can be swept away or may stall in moving water.
- Injuries – Flood waters may contain sharp objects, such as glass or metal fragments, that can cause injury and lead to infection. Wood, metal and other objects are being swept by fast moving water or are being covered by high waters making them unable to be seen. This can lead to puncture wounds, shear wounds and much more.
- Electrical Hazards – After a hurricane, flood or other natural disaster you need to be careful to avoid electrical hazards both in your home and elsewhere. Avoid contact with overhead power lines during cleanup and other activities, do not drive through water if downed power lines are in the water. It is easy to be electrocuted during a flood as one may not notice downed power lines while driving. Also, electrical equipment in the home that are in water can lead to electrocution. Do not try to unplug them.
- Destruction of homes and other infrastructure- flooding can easily weaken buildings causing them to collapse. It causes greater loss than just a building. People lose everything including household appliances and a proper resting place. Flooding removes the comfort of calling a place your home.
- Destruction of agricultural land and crops: if our agricultural land is destroyed, how and where will our crops and vegetation be grown? Furthermore how will we survive and sustain a proper standard of living? Less crops will mean higher prices on the market as their will be a great demand. In turn we the citizens will have to dig deeper into our pockets to purchase these goods causing a negative effect on the entire region.
The bottom line of flooding is that it also adds another risk to our lists. Mental stress! Yes that’s right!
- Mental stress and fatigue is another life threatening risk as it may cause financial instability, cost us great loss and cause all round tension before, during and after since much preparation, clean up and caution is needed to keep us on our toes to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
- The picture below illustrates flooding at UWI, which could delay the learning process of students as it will be difficult for them to attend classes. As a result of this, many will become tensed and frustrated as they will be concern about their education.
Finally, Chemical hazards are infamous during flooding. They can consists of chemicals from sewage plants to household cleaners that get mixed up in the flood waters. One should be aware of potential chemical hazards during floods. Flood waters may have moved hazardous chemical containers of solvents or other industrial chemicals from their normal storage places. When these chemicals interact with the human body, they can cause:
- Choking – causes severe irritation or swelling of the respiratory tract (lining of the nose and throat, lungs)
- Incapacitation — by drugs that make people unable to think clearly or that cause an altered state of consciousness (possibly unconsciousness)
- Metallic poisoning
- Nerve ailments — highly poisonous chemicals that work by preventing the nervous system from working properly
- Vomiting —chemicals that can cause nausea and vomiting
- Uncontrollable bleeding
So how can we deal with the problem of flooding in the country and at The University of the West Indies? We not only came up with our own solutions to the problem, but we included the “Inter American Development Bank: Trinidad and Tobago Flood Alleviation and Drainage Program (2013)”. This plan proposes solutions and ways to initiate them, with the help of pieces of legislation that include the OSH Act, Public Health Ordinance, The Water and Sewage Authority Act, The Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act, among others.
Solutions to flooding can be divided into separate categories; soft and hard engineering strategies. Soft engineering strategies can be described as flood warning and preparation while hard engineering strategies are building dams & reservoirs and channel straightening. The soft engineering strategies deal with protection while hard engineering strategies accesses the situation and offers the best alternative solution.
Flood preparations can range from personal protection, property protection, knowing evacuation routes to health and sanitation. Personal preparation and health and sanitation are similar:
- Listen to news updates and other local information sources such as the ODPM and the Red Cross to get information and advice as soon as possible.
- Drinking and using pipe-borne water is a serious health hazard after recent flooding, it is strongly suggested that bottled water be used or boiling water to remove any harmful bacteria.
- Cleaning and disinfecting anything that got wet is always advisable, in order to remove any sewage, bacteria or harmful chemicals which might accompany the floodwaters.
- The goal of property protection is to reduce the risk of damage before flooding occurs. This will require elevating critical utilities such as; electrical panel, sockets, wiring, and appliances. Waterproofing flat areas with sandbags and man-made banks can also help.
- Knowing the quickest way out and alternative routes is also important especially in the capital city Port-of-Spain. If you are to get out of the capital city Port-of-Spain before sunset and you have to use public transportation on a rainy day it is always recommended that you move as quickly as possible.
The use of dams, reservoirs, channel straightening, costal defence and afforestation can be used to prevent flooding.
- Dams and reservoirs are designed to store water and control the discharge of rivers. Therefore, the government should consider designing more of these dams in flood prone areas. In the dry season these dams should be maintained and checked.
- In addition, cleaning and widening river banks to ensure smooth flow of water in the rainy season. River defences such as channel straightening, levees, diversion spillways should be considered to equip and aid rivers which burst its bank an annual bases.
- Meanders are removed by building artificial cut-through. This makes the water flow faster which reduces flooding because water drains downstream more quickly and does not build up to the point where the channel cannot contain anymore.
- Diversion spillways should also be considered which equip rivers with gates which can open to alternative sources to release water if and when necessary. The Flood Alleviation and Drainage Plan suggested that in order to aid the flooding in the Frederick Street- Independence Square area, 3.0km of drainage conduits should be installed and fitted with flaps gates that prevent water from the river flowing back out into the streets.
- Around the Queens Park Savannah was recommend drainage, accompanied with a detention basin that at the south corner to relieve flood waters and trash collectors in the Gulf of Paria where the basin will empty to prevent any further blockage.
Bringing the problem of flooding a bit closer to home, The University of the West Indies is no stranger to being completely submerged under water.
(Vehicles submerged at UWI car park) (Flooding in front the Alma Jordan Library)
Other than the amount of rainfall the most popular reason for flooding in and around campus is improper drainage and pollution.
- We recommend that the relevant authorities find alternatives or modify the drainage system. The second ranked perceived reason for the floods at the University of the West Indies is improper maintenance. The drainage pipes and waterways should be checked and cleaned at least every three months. There should also be a head of maintenance department monitoring and accessing maintenance personnel work. Tackling the major causes will certainly put an end to the problem if not at least alleviate it to some extent. With that being said, the time taken for the flood waters to subside will be shorter.
The most popular responses from students being affected by flooding is being stranded in campus unable to leave and not being able to enter.
- In order to rectify this problem students can address their concern to shuttle service authorities, to work through prolonged periods of flood. An increase in the amount of shuttle buses should be used when there is flooding.
- The university can also consider building a ramp from block six(6) engineering to an area close to the south gate entrance. Since this is the most popular spot in which flooding occurs and students cannot leave or get into campus.
- The second most popular response from students being affected by the floods is being unable to attend classes. The university should have a strict policy where classes are cancelled during flooding. It should be considered since a few students complained of health concerns such as skin irritation.
- When there is flooding the maintenance department should be given the responsibility to sanitize the compound with whatever chemicals necessary since the floods attract rodents. Just a few poison boxes around campus does not deal with the influx of rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes that are seen after flood waters have subsided.
- Students are of the view that the problem can be solved by reconstructing the drainage system, regular maintenance and planting of more trees in areas such as LRC Green and on the lawn of JFK
- The University should request that the cooperation officials maintain surroundings areas such as underground drains on at least on a monthly base. Heavy fines should be imposed and enforced since many businesses in the St Augustine area practice dumping into water-ways.
Eliminating the threat in this situation should be the first strategy to preventing floods and the hazards associated with it. This in essence means that drainage systems should be cleaned and other causes dealt with respectively. However, if elimination is unlikely, then we should skip straight to engineering to ensure that the systems recommended above will be put in place to curb the flooding concern, e.g. creating detention basins, trash collectors and building alternative routes to classrooms in the case of the university.
Since we have noted that the majority of flooding is caused by human activities, we recommend that the government put in place strict laws and policies about trash disposal, quarrying and deforestation. We recognize that without quarrying and deforestation, urbanization is curbed, however we advise that there be a limit to the amount of quarries that are run and also a height restriction on how elevated construction can occur on hills and mountains. Establishment of environmental laws is the way to prevent further flooding.
In conclusion, flooding does not only affect our lives today, it will also slow down sustainable growth for the future. It destroys our lands, homes and livelihoods, spreads poisons and toxins that can seep into our earth and affect our future generations. If we do not act now, we may not have a bright or dry future ahead.
- Risks associated with flooding
- Causes of flooding in Trinidad
- Pictures of The University of the West Indies
- Types of Flooding
- Solutions to Flooding
- The Flood Alleviation and Drainage Program PDF