Beating off the Waves – The effects of rain and people

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.

The Adopted Dog – Heading up the Leeward side

But as I looked up beyond the little industrial estate in Campden Park where the brewery sat, I realised that, in all the years I had been visiting St Vincent, I had never been any further up the leeward side of the island.  With a bit of persuading , I managed to convince Eduardo and Edsel that we needed a day off, and using one of Eduardo’s usual drivers, it was with some excitement that we managed to take one Saturday to visit a few sights.


Campden Park


The leeward highway cuts inland from Kingstown – the hill at Fort Charlotte is too commanding a promontory to have a through route.  So the highway goes up behind the Botanic Gardens and then wiggles its way over the next ridge, then the next and the next before being able to get anywhere near the sea again.  Two or three narrow valleys, including Campden Park, descend from the highway, packed full of houses and industrial units; indeed much of St Vincent’s industry is packed into this area.  The small port here is probably busier than the one in Kingstown itself, and the oil terminal is tucked away one of these coves.  Like many islands, while the image is of a paradise, the usual needs of life cannot be magically spirited away – you still need places to generate electricity, obtain water, get rid of sewage, store fuel and bring commodities ashore and they rarely look pretty.  Volcanic islands like St Vincent have some convenient little valleys where all this can be hidden away nicely.  The urban sprawl of Kingstown only gradually fades away, even through the side hills became less populated the roadside of the leeward highway is littered with buildings right into the next village, Buccament.

The village runs down one side of the valley along the highway; the major part of the valley was until recently open.  The Buccament River being one of the major catchments for St Vincent, there was a fear of flooding at the valley foot.  But when we got out the minibus to look over the beach, we saw the pristine new resort of Buccament Bay – a small town of chalets to give people that secluded, special, paradise field.  All the photos show the room you stay in with a sea view, the reality of course being than less than 20 % of the chalets available have the full sea view.  I don’t blame Buccament for this marketing – it is a ploy executed by every hotelier in the Caribbean and worldwide.  Show the images of your best features only and then charge four times the amount to actually get views, but by the time people realise that you have brought them into your dream and they will compromise on the view just to get a flavour of the ideal.


New development at Buccament

What concerned me, with my ever increasingly wary eye on the stupid siting of developments in risk areas, was what would happen the next time the Buccament Valley flooded.  Maybe the hotel itself had spent enough money to put flood defences up around its own property, but the area that was a natural flood plain would have soaked up a lot of water, and now it needed to go somewhere else.  Was that somewhere else the small village houses on the other side of the valley?  Once they were built high enough above the flood level to escape any disaster, but the volume of water needing a new place to go could now swamp them.