For the past week, the newspapers have been filled with reports of flooding all over the island. The general response has been that there has been a National disaster, with the National Emergency Management Agency called out to advise the Government of the need for a response. There is no doubt that there has been loss and distress, but the question of why the effect of an annual period of rainfall should have had such a terrible effect has not, I believe, been discussed, and is, I’m afraid, not well understood. I believe there is an important lesson to be learned from this distressing event.
Every year, the Bahamas goes through two “rainy seasons”. They come every year, and they always bring lots of rain. As a result, there are always areas that flood. This is not a surprise. So the floods of last week have happened before, and will happen again. It is a function of where we live on the planet. So the question must not be about avoiding the floods, but about designing our built environment so that it accommodates those floods.
Those raised in the areas over the hill have fond memories of playing under the floors of houses raised three to five feet above grade. We remember the years when there were floods as times of adventure, when the waters were kept below floor level because the house was raised. This was not style. It was respect for the climate and the location of the house. Other aspects of the design also reflected that respect for the climate and the consideration for the location of the house.
Site selection was based upon the possibility of proper drainage, upon orientation and access to breezes and to the ability to develop the site with respect for the climate. A community of climatically designed buildings survives in the Sears Road area, just above Shirley Street. Isolated examples also still exist all over the central part of the island, especially on Dowdeswell Street, the Pond, and Bain and Grants Town.
The flooding of the past week may be considered the result of ignoring the laws of nature – of not respecting the climate in the Bahamas. As we develop the built environment, perhaps we can re-establish that respect. While I certainly am not suggesting that the people who suffered are at fault for their distress, if we are to reduce those occurrences in the future, we must all understand that in the effort to develop our country, there are natural laws we must respect. We should acknowledge that our fore-fathers knew what they were doing, and not continue to believe that we are not subject to those climatic rules.
Patrick Rahming
May 29, 2013