UNDERSTANDING OUR DEVELOPMENT
GEM Saunders, writing in the SEARCHLIGHT of 05/01/2016, under the caption: UNDERSTANDING OUR UNDER DEVELOPMENT, among other things, said:
“A recent visit to SVG by a friend from the developed world brought into sharper focus the state of our development as it related specifically to our built environment. His telling observation was that after almost 50 years, the main access to Richmond and Fancy and through the interior were the same torturous roadsâ¦ His comparison with many of our neighbours, who boasted new highways, tunnelsâ¦ was also revealingâ¦ As a civil engineer of over 30 years, I felt an obligation to remind him about some of the challenges of being a small island developing stateâ¦.I also explained that SVGâs challenges were made grater in many respects because of its inherent geography, including loose volcanic soils and rugged topographyâ¦ We also became mindful of the increasing frequency of world-wide droughts and flooding and painfully recalled our own recent series of extreme weather events that together have set us back on our development path. The series began with hurricane Tomas in late 2010â¦ This was followed by the 2010-2011 droughtâ¦and unprecedented rainfall event of April 2011â¦ Twenty months later we experienced the deadly and destructive Christmas floods.â
GEM Saunders is an engineer of 30 years and CEO of an important Statutory Corporation, CWSA. He is, therefore, no ordinary man. He is both a policy maker and an advisor to the Government. His lamentations about the natural disasters sound as one writing a dictation passage, a passage that is so familiar to all of us. Mr Saunders is coercing someone to accept that our lack of development is an inescapable act of nature and only by Godâs intervention would we be able to do better. The very title of his discourse: UNDERSTANDING OUR UNDERDEVELOPMENT is bewildering. It is synonymous with meeting an alcoholic or drug addict on the street and in trying to counsel him, in order for him to see a better life; in his desire not to change, he persuades you to understand why he has to remain in that situation. What Mr Saunders considers to be our negatives are very much our positives:
1. Our rugged mountainous terrain, caused by the presence of the volcano, has provided us with the following:
(1) Excellent rainfall almost all year round. St Vincent, apart from Dominica, has one of the highest rainfalls in the region.
(2) St Vincent is one of the few places in the world where all of its potable water is gravity fed. In many of our sister states, the loss of electricity means the loss of water, even in Guyana, which has more water than all other CARICOM countries combined.
(3) The sale of bottled and bulk water internationally is a billion dollar business. We fail to capitalize on it.
(4) In the drive towards food security, the production of green houses and the need to grow food all year round, necessitates the production of irrigation systems. Here again we fail to capitalize, only to see on a daily basis the greater part of our fresh water finds its way to the sea.
(5) Because of our abundance of fresh water, for every head of pig Barbados can produce, St Vincent ought be able to produce 100; yet, while I was reliably informed that Barbados is self-sufficient in pig and poultry, we in SVG continue to import more than 50 per cent of our requirement.
(6) In the late fifties and throughout the sixties, both North Union and Grand Sable estates grew bananas through the irrigation of water from both the Union and Mount Young rivers respectively.
(7) During the days of slavery and the plantation system, all the major estates processed arrowroot starch and ground sugar cane by way of water operated wheels.
(8) Today, the lone arrowroot factory at Owia continues to operate with all of its water gravity fed.
(9) While the world is now baffling with climate change and is looking for alternative sources of energy, St Vincent, since 1949 has been using hydroelectricity, when the first plant was commissioned at South Rivers; since then two other such plants have been commissioned, one at Richmond and the other at Cumberland, commissioned in the eighties.
(10) The loose volcanic soil that Mr Saunders complained about is one of the richest soils internationally.
(11) The sale of volcanic soils internationally for greenhouses and potted plants, is now a billion dollar industry. St Vincent is blessed with inexhaustible deposits of such soil. One only needs to take a walk to North Leeward to see topsoil of over 50 feet deep.
2. GOVERNMENT TO IMPORT AGGREGATE FROM DOMINICA AND ST LUCIA
I was appalled to hear a news release from chief engineer Brent Bailey, (NBC RADIO, 14/01/2016), indicating that the Government has given DIPCON the right to import aggregate from Dominica and St Lucia. “You canât take coal to Newcastleâ.
St Vincent has far more granite rocks per square mile than any other CARICOM state. If we were to start stone quarrying from the area of Carib in Campden Park, there is enough material to operate several stone crushing plants on a daily basis, lasting for over 50 years. This will take care of all the rugged terrain between Campden Park and Rillan Hill into the Vermont Valley. At the end of the exercise hundreds of acres of level lands would be created for generations to come. But instead of exploiting such rich resources, we take the easy way out: do nothing. St Vincent, I believe has the poorest land use policy. Not only in the Campden Park/Rillan Hill area have we such large deposits of natural resources, but areas from Mount Wynne/Peters Hope into Richmond.
It is often said that the cost of constructing one mile of road in St Vincent will construct five miles in Barbados; the corollary is for every acre of sea that Barbados can reclaim, St. Vincent can reclaim 10. Eighteen acres of land, on which stands The Financial Complex, China Town and Little Tokyo, were reclaimed in the early seventies, with all of the retaining material coming from Ottley Hall. Today, I hear of the thoughtless idea of putting the cruise berth at Arnos Vale Bay. Besides the inadequacy of space, could you imagine trucks traversing Questelles/Chauncey through congested Kingstown to take retaining material to Arnos Vale, or barges bringing it from as far as Mount Wynne/Peters Hope, Cumberland or Richmond? Besides the chaos, you check the cost. Ideally, the location of a new cruise ship berth is Mount Wynne/Peterâs Hope. The space is adequate and an inexhaustible amount of retaining materials are available. To seal off the foreshore of Mount Wynne/Peters Hope for the purpose of hotel development is one of the worst injustices that this generation can do to its descendants. Bermuda by nature is 21 square miles, but by a series of reclamations is now 54 square miles, more than twice its original size. The diamond is in our backyard. We do not need to go foreign to look for it. If carefully planned, between Mount Wynne and Wallibou River, we can easily reclaim hundreds of acres of sea. Coupled with a cross country road linking Wallibou River to Rabacca River, via Trinity Falls and Bamboo Range, this generation would leave a legacy that would be unmatched for generations to come.
TAKE A LOOK IN THE MIRROR
When the British plundered us, they did not take our mineral wealth. There is no record of mining. They made use of the excellent sunshine, rainfall and a rich volcanic soil. St Vincent had a multiplicity of agricultural exports to Britain and to other CARICOM states. Among the exports were sugar, arrowroot starch, dried coconuts, copra, coconut oil, nutmeg, cocoa, coffee, cotton, peanuts, a variety of root crops, including ginger, yams, dasheen, tannias, eddoes, sweet potatoes and plantains and bananas and live-stock, including sheep, goats, pigs and cattle. There was once a pasteurization plant. Today, there is a generation under 40 years who never drank or even saw fresh cowâs milk. But we continue to blame the British and see Reparation as our only saviour. The British taught us. We fail to translate. The fault is ours. Itâs neither Nature nor History.