Even a normal rainy day in Castries, the Saint Lucian capital, is a cause for concern for the city’s most vulnerable populations.
Surrounded by mountains, the steep slopes house the city’s rapidly growing informal hillside communities. With no proper drainage or infrastructure to deal with excess surface water, these communities are highly vulnerable to landslides triggered by even relatively light rainfall.
This risk is then exacerbated by the Caribbean’s natural weather patterns of heavy rain and frequent cyclones. The result: a loss of property, livelihood and, in the worst cases, lives. All of which, pose a very real threat for development and have the potential to reverse recent progress.
However, thanks to a new community-based approach, the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia is today a success story within the region for its efforts in managing the risk of rainfall-triggered landslides.
A new initiative, implemented with the help of the World Bank, has provided the Saint Lucian government with crucial information about the causes of landslides as well as an insight into the most at-risk areas.
Addressing both the effects and causes of landslides, the Management of Slope Stability in Communities, or MoSSaiC, project reduced the risk with a three-pronged approach:
- Science-based: Physical causes are localized and appropriate measures designed to address these causes.
- Community-based: Residents are engaged in identifying causes and solutions. Additionally, community-based contractors and workers are employed to construct drainage solutions, increasing access to employment, education and training in the communities.
- Evidence-based: Rigorous and effective quality is maintained through training and design standards. Appropriate physical solutions are then delivered to reduce the landslide risk.
And it’s an approach that works. In October 2010, despite rainfall of 50 centimeters in just 24 hours, all of the hillside communities of Castries who had implemented the MoSSaiC program weathered the storm without landslides. Prior to the project, these same hillsides would have shown signs of instability during much lighter rainfalls.
“[During Hurricane Tomas] the water was as high and gushing as I had ever seen before. The timing of the drains being installed was so right, just before the storm, as no landslides occurred like they did before,” describes Eldrena St. Luce, Community Leader in Morne du Don, Castries.