Sunday, September 12, 2010

Water, water everywhere

Nary a drop to drink. Let me take just a second here to exhort you to give thanks if you live in a place where you can drink water right out of the tap before I forget.

Tegucigalpa has been receiving more rain than usual this rainy season, by some reports 300% more than normal. I have to has not seemed like that much more than normal to me. Last year certainly was abysmally low, but this is not the first time we have seen the mudslides, the downtown flooded (too much trash in the streets clog the drains everywhere it seems...less than 10 years ago however) and people left homeless. More and more areas in town are being declared "at risk" zones for slides, etc. The problem seems to be that even though where you live the rains might seem normal, if not still proving the awesome power of moving certain areas there might be falling seven times the rain you are getting in the same time period.

I saw an article in the paper today that shed a little more light, as to the reasons for increased destruction and slides.

1. Even million dollar homes built on the sides of hills do not always adequately build retaining walls and face mud slides when the ground is this should be no surprise that those building much more humble abodes do even less...or nothing at all when they are built, just some holes in the ground, and wood posts set in them, no concrete, no mesh, etc.

2. More people crowding into Tegucigalpa means people using property and areas that before might have been seen as not desirable due to such risks.

3. Economic problems means that with a growing population (people coming into the city from the rural areas) and some 1400 homes built last year...but there are over 7000 homes without residents. Nicer homes are harder to fill because less people have the money necessary. Nicer homes are being built...but far more are being built in higher risk areas, and are more poorly constructed to handle the elements.

4. Ground saturation is not helped by much more homes using dug septic tanks than those that are hooked up to the sewers. From 2008 to 2009 it was reported that the number of homes hooked up to the public sewer system dropped from 31.3%, which itself is not exactly a high number, to 14.8%. Side note...if you are going to dig a well here and want to use it for more than watering the flowers, dig deep.

5. Over 1000 homes between 2008 and 2009 started sending their waste straight to the rivers in the city. This does not include all the other homes that already were doing that.

6. More people, more homes....less trees, less ground cover, more cuts in the hills, no planned ditches or system to route rain do the math.

Homes are being built under bridges (I see it running all the time...harder to see from a bus or car, but they are still there), right next to rivers, on those steep slopes...all because they feel they have no other alternative. It is not because they think it is a great idea to have a water front view. You like a great view from above when you have a paved driveway and a car to get there...not if you have to walk, and worry every night that it rains that you might slid away in your sleep, or as has happened, have your home collapsed from above.

There is a growing segment of the city that if you did not have that valley view you would assume you were far away from any major city. There are definitely challenges to be confronted...zoning issues, problems of residential areas being planned, sold, and used without any planning to basic services of any kind, and even the basic need of water. Ironically the rain in the past months could have filled our reservoir to capacity several times over...a reservoir which does not have the capacity to meet the current needs, and has not been able to for several years. Planning and executing the construction of another reservoir is needed...but that is a different story of ecological impact, housing, and politics that have been going on for years...perhaps a post for another time.

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