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Vandalism of river level monitors delayed flood warnings, says St Lucia minister
Published on January 2, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Caribbean News Now contributor

CASTRIES, St Lucia -- At a press conference on Monday, minister for sustainable development, energy, science and technology, Senator Dr James Fletcher, identified vandalism of river monitors in Saint Lucia as a key factor affecting the ability of automatic data loggers to provide the necessary information on flood warnings during periods of heavy rains.

Senator Dr James Fletcher
“We have to change the way in which we deal with our early warning systems. Whereas we may not be able to predict how much rainfall we would have gotten, the ministry of sustainable development has tried to put river monitors in place that would give us some indication as to how quickly the river waters are rising,” he explained.

“People have gone in and have removed the solar panels or have removed the batteries that are there, because the battery is the same one you will use in a motor cycle,” he said.

The public, Fletcher stated, needs to understand the importance of having such equipment functional.

“If we had monitors in place in all of our rivers,” he said, “the automatic data loggers would be able to tell us how quickly the water is rising and would be able to give us an indication that we will have a problem in Cannelles, we will have a problem in Bexon and we need to do something about it. But if the river monitors are not working, clearly we cannot provide that information.”

A flash flood from a river adjacent to Hewanorra International Airport in Saint Lucia on Christmas Eve could have resulted in a major disaster,

Fletcher emphasized the need to evaluate existing early warning systems and, where necessary, replace them, in an effort to improve the reliability of such monitors.

“We also need to have better co-ordination among the various agencies,” he added.

Fletcher also cautioned against labelling the recent trough a “climate change event”.

“One of the things that climate change will cause to happen is more frequent extreme weather events. What we had on Christmas Eve was a trough,” he said.

Saint Lucia was not the only island affected by the unusual trough system. Neighbours St Vincent and Dominica also sustained significant damage.

Fletcher said disaster management organizations in Saint Lucia and neighbouring islands were unable to provide advance warning for the extent of damage expected from the trough.

According to Fletcher, while the devastation resulting from the recent trough system cannot be put at the feet of climate change, climate change will increase the frequency of such events.

“We have to shore up our defences, what we call climate change adaptation, to allow us to be able to respond better and make our communities more resilient,” he noted.
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