The next morning I awoke to a rainstorm, and I saw for real what happens when water has nowhere to drain. Most of the roads were flooded and in places the water was rising across the small pavements and were lapping at the steps of the buildings. As I cautiously negotiated my way to work, I realised the district around my office had been worst affected. Here it was not just the rainwater collecting, it was coming up from under the ground and water from other areas was streaming in here. This was the lowest point of a very low island. One of my colleagues at the Department of Environment explained to me that where we were sitting was on one of the earlier reclamation sites in Male, and the sediment used to fill up was not only lower than the coral island, but also more porous and the water table easily rose above the surface and flooded the area.
Flooding has nowhere to drain
Every pedestrian trod carefully that day and avoided the wake of fast moving vehicles, but it was tough in some areas. The heat of the day did let it dry out quite quickly, though, and that evening I was able to go walkabout in the streets of Male once more. This time I headed north from the hotel to the great long central thoroughfare which I had driven along on the first morning, the Majheedee Magu Road. Much of the central area of this road was the larger stores and small shopping malls which at 5pm were crazy busy. Above the long line of vehicles inching each way along this thoroughfare, I could see a small round circle of sky at the far end. If I looked the other way, I could see another circle of light. From this one point I could see both ends of Male Island, and I was walking along the longest axis.
As I got to the eastern end the traffic and the hecticness of the shopping district calmed and I found myself in a small park. At the end of the road I turned northwards and passed the ferry dock we had used earlier in the week to head to Thulusdhoo. It was now busy with commuters – this dock tended to serve people to the nearby islands to the north; both the airport and a couple of residential islands. Many of these islands had been recently expanded with artificial reclamation schemes. Hopefully they would not continue to be infilled with high rise apartment blocks like Male, but the pressure on the biggest city on the country meant that to suburbanise the population would take more reclamation and island space than was available in the environs. The population of Male is over 100,000 in an area of a little over 5km2 puts it in the top 50 of densely populated cities.
On my first ever visit to Kingstown I was in the Cobblestone Hotel in the centre of the city. When I started this project I could not get a room at the Cobblestone and the house rental had not been established so I was put in the New Montrose hotel on the west side of town . I had briefly stayed in this hotel for a workshop a few years beforehand, but the effect of approaching the town from the west every morning was novel. You saw different elements of the morning commute, you passed by the a new range shops opening up in the morning or shutting down in the evening.
Kingstown’s suburbs continue to reach up in to the hills
Kingstown is a bustling little city; although one of the smallest capital cities in the world it has all the functions of primacy you would expect; the government offices, the key commercial and retail outlets, as well as the institutions of religion, society and culture, albeit on a much smaller scale than a mega city like London or Tokyo. But as well as that it just hums like a busy market town. People come in to the city from four directions; from the suburbs themselves on the hills behind the city centre, from the leeward and windward coastlines of St Vincent and across the sea from the string of Grenadine islands to the south.
Eduardo and I met up for that first trip; Edsel was not available. We interviewed all the different agencies and tried to understand the detail of the scope of our job ahead. Part of the project would be to analyse case studies using GIS to solve particular land issues. As we interviewed people they all gave their opinions on what topics we should look at. Towards the end of the trip, we had two days to investigate a couple of these in more detail; which gave us a fantastic excuse to explore the islands.
The first of the field trips was to head back to one of my most favourite islands in the world, Bequia. I may have given the impression that this was a sleepy idyllic island elsewhere, but it had similar problems to everywhere in the world; one of these being population pressure. Islands can suffer more than most from this. Maybe the sheer numbers of population increase are not as great as in, for example, South East Asia or the urban centres of Africa, but the amount of land available to house those new people is much more restricted, and the effects on the environment much less absorbable. On Bequia plans were afoot to subdivide land parcels. In most of the world land is owned by someone, and the ownership is recorded geographically by the boundaries of parcels or plots on the ground. Some people own one small rectangle of land, others huge swathes of countryside. And those people might be individuals or they may be families or institutions such as government. In many of the Caribbean islands, the government took on the ownership of the big plantations – the sugar on Antigua, Barbados and St Kitts, the bananas on St Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent. This meant they have a land bank that when the population increases they can subdivide their own plots and sell them off. There was a plan on the north coast of Bequia to do just this and it would be a useful trial of the National GIS to see what could be provided geographically to help this process.