Monday, October 25, 2010

UNDP pilot project to identify flood risks, mitigating measures


The Daily Herald

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten infrastructure and Public Works officials will be beneficiaries of a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) pilot project that will identify flood risks and eventually facilitate the development of early warning systems for residents.

The St. Maarten Fire and Disaster Management Departments concluded a three-day workshop on Wednesday in which Alexander Vacher of the UNDP played a vital role in outlining the aspects of the five-million-euro project that is slated to be carried out in 11 Caribbean nations. The workshops were opened by Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams.

Also included in the workshops were management and personnel of the Ministry of VROMI. The flood risk study and its recommendations and scenarios will be carried out by Professor Zoran Voginic of the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education.

Head of the Department of New Works and Projects Kurt Ruan took the visiting team on site inspections of flood-prone areas, the Great Bay water outlet, pump stations and the floodgate structure.

Vacher explained that the risk information in the report would help Public Works officials in their decision-making process as it pertained to actions before a possible flooding scenario. The report will outline a number of scenarios or a library of models that can be pre-run and will indicate appropriate measures that should be taken in case of flooding. It is based on the premise that certain things can be forecast to enhance safety for residents.

Also included will be flood hazard maps, a tsunami/storm surge model, barometric data and analysis to assist with coping with sea surge. The recent flooding St. Maarten experienced has been attributed to the heavy sea surge that was generated by Tropical Storm Otto. As quickly as the pumps were pumping water out, the sea surge was pushing water inland, which contributed to the flooding situation.

The development of an early warning system was also high on the agenda for discussion. It was suggested that St. Maarten replicate a system Anguilla uses based on common alerting protocols and utilising existing facilities such as the early warning sirens.

A new, fully computerised system would automatically trigger Internet pop-ups, radio interruptions, SMS messages, etc., to warn the population of impending danger of flooding.

In terms of what he saw during his on-site inspections, Vacher said it was obvious that further development must be controlled and certain development projects were badly located, prompting the need for mitigating measures. He also noted that the capacity of the pumping station should be doubled. "It is never too late to force better infrastructure work. Risk can always increase," he said.

The compiling of the report will now be coordinated with officials of the Fire and Disaster Management Departments, who in turn will coordinate with other stakeholders.

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