20th April 1986
The record breaking rains have proved even more catastrophic than the winds. In financial terms, the damage is currently estimated at $2.5 million; although full damage assessment is incomplete, government sources are talking about a needed expenditure of $30+ million. Some of this would be spent on clearing the filters at the waterworks which supply the greater Suva area. Massive silt deposits have clogged the water intakes: other impediments include trees.
Elsewhere, homes, livestock, crops and roads have been washed away. The evidence was visible as we went on the usual Saturday dive. To reach the Beqa (pron: Ben-ger) reef, we had to traverse a muddy brown stretch of water which will surely suffocate the reef which virtually surrounds Viti Levu. And, of course, the populations of fish which feed on the coral and the fish which feed on the coral eaters will be decimated.
Talk among the naturalists at our social gathering last night was that it could be at least 15 years before nature cures itself, and who knows how much fertile top soil has been washed out to sea. It’s certain that root crops, the staple foods of dalo and cassava are lost: left in the waterlogged ground, they will rot. One wonders how much of the damage has been exacerbated by deforestation.
The Australian government has given a grant of $300,000 to buy corrugated iron and timber to be used to build temporary shelters for those left homeless. A generous grant, yet one must query the use of materials which are no improvement ion the indigenous vegetation which is used to build the mbures.
Corrugated iron is not a good insulating material and amplifies the sound of falling rain. In hurricane force winds, sheets of roofing metal become lethal weapons. Although there is a short-term value in the wake of such weather extremes, it is to be hoped that the government and all the concerned agencies are able to propose and carry out proper measures to minimise the effects of future natural disasters.
One obvious step would be to seal road cuttings. Broad red scars of bare earth line the Queen and King highways which encircle Viti Levu. The slippages we skirted around yesterday, and the others which have totally blocked roads, could well have been prevented by not removing vegetation or replacing it.
To a transient such as myself, it appears that government efforts to cater for the business and tourism sectors have been with a view to short-term gain. Maybe the present rains and floods could not have been prevented – the previous record rainfall has been surpassed twice over – but in the matter of the road embankments they have literally been ‘spoiled for want of a ha’porth of tar’.