Flooding devastation, retaining wall and the cost of deforestation

In the wake of the devastation caused by the Cyclone Gita flooding, all the attention and anger have been directed at the Government and the delay in the construction of a retaining wall along the path of the Vaisigano river. 

From village Mayors to ordinary citizens whose lives have been severely affected not once but several times by flooding, they all see the wall as the only way to protect families, lives and businesses nearby.

They are therefore frustrated.

They have a valid point. They also have a legitimate argument that the Government has taken way too long in the construction process, especially since the devastation caused by Cyclone Evan in 2012. 

Many of them say that if the Government had moved fast enough since Cyclone Evan, none of what happened last week when flooding broke out again would have eventuated. 

Take the Village Mayor of Lelata and Ma’agao, Papali’i Pene, for instance.

Having held the role for more than 10 years, he said he has seen families struggle through floods because there’s no barrier to protect families from the raging river. He said the writing has been on the wall for some time now and it was only a matter of time before a repeat of the events of Cyclone Evan.

The only hope, he said, is the retaining wall.

“When the river floods, it’s really powerful,” he said. “The flood doesn’t only spread sickness once it’s finished, but it also ruins vegetation. Almost every house here at Lelata, part of Ma’agao and Fa’atoia is affected. Belongings have been ruined because of the flood.”

The 66-year-old said they could hardly wait for the wall to be completed.

 “We have no power over the construction of the wall, which is all up to the Government, the only thing we can do is kindly remind them,” he said.

He also raised an interesting point, one that has already been cited by the Government, as to why the project has been delayed.

“The reason there’s a delay in the construction of the wall along the Lelata riverbank is because some families disagree with the construction of the wall. The families have their own personal reasons for disagreeing with the construction works.”

For Herbet Lees, another Lelata resident, he is under no illusion that the wall would have saved them a lot of trouble.

“If the wall has been built already, families from Lelata and Ma’agao and Levili would have all been safe,” he said. “Because once Lelata is swallowed by the Vaisigano River, all the areas close by the river bank gets affected.”

He said it would have been better if the people responsible for building the wall back then would have listened to them.

 “The riverbank beside Lelata used to be really deep, but because there was much digging done to lay a pipe for the E.P.C, it has affected the depth of the river, making it shallower.”

He added that many trees on the river bank which helped contain the river flow have been cut and now there is nothing there anymore to protect people from the rising water. Many people the Samoa Observer had spoken with agree.

Speaking of trees, Mr. Lees is on to something. You see, people are not wrong when they see the wall as one way to help protect them and their properties.

They are not wrong about the depth of the water becoming too shallow as a result of developments around the area. This includes the black sand beach at Vaisigano, which has resulted in the sand build up at the foot of the river, which has proven devastating time and time again. The decision not to dig up the sand to deepen the riverbed at the Vaisigano bridge needs to be revisited. 

When the water flow is strong, it needs somewhere to go. And you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that when there is a bottleneck somewhere there, the water will find its own paths. And as we’ve seen, that is in family homes, properties and to demise of businesses nearby. This is absolutely devastating; it is heartbreaking to see. It is a miracle that no one was killed during the weekend.

But there is one other point we want to raise while we are on the topic. Which brings us to a letter from a good friend of Samoa in Germany, Ulrike Hertel, which arrived in the mail yesterday.

“Many Samoans are now calling for concrete walls to protect places near rivers from future flooding,” she wrote. “However, the main reason why flooding in Samoa has become worse and worse is massive deforestation further up the hills.” 

“Natural rain forest used to protect Samoan soil from slipping and being washed away, its roots held back rain water so it would not rush down all at once, but fill the rivers with clear water all year round.” 

“Cattle farming and development of new settlement areas have destroyed most of these precious forests. It will not be possible to stop flooding if the forests are not back to where they belong, especially along and above the rivers.” 

“No concrete wall will ever be strong enough, the water will just flow around it and destroy another area. The only working solution is to respect the beautiful nature God has blessed Samoa with, and to plant trees, plant trees, plant trees.”

Looking at the developments in Apia, this might be a little late.

But it’s a point that needs to be considered with rivers and streams elsewhere in Samoa so that we don’t face the same dilemma. 

What do you think? 

Have a safe Wednesday Samoa, God bless! 

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