Solomons flooding tragedy, a lesson for us all

OPINION. The Solomon Islands has just experienced a devastating flood event. Mercifully fatalities have been few, but thousands have been made homeless and with fresh water and sewerage systems destroyed, the spread of disease is now a major concern. International aid is being sent in.

Unfortunately the writing has been on the wall for a couple of decades that the Solomon Islands was headed for a downfall. In common with most places on Earth, people have simply been breeding at too fast a rate. The population is simply too big for the area and resources available.

This has been made very much worse by land clearing and forestry. By “forestry” I mean the practice of cutting down trees as fast as possible, and NOT sensible sustainable forestry management practices such as selective logging and replanting.

Whether or not the global climate is changing, when severe events such as storms do occur from time to time, areas which have had natural forest cover removed suffer increased and faster water run-off. This leads to even more severe flooding than might have otherwise occurred. Increases in the population can encourage new residential building on land more at risk from catastrophe.

It was about 15 years ago that I saw a documentary on TV about rampant forest destruction in the Solomon Islands. I fear that this recent flooding disaster is just their chickens coming home to roost.

Unfortunately for us all, many other countries could be said to be suffering from the same problems… overpopulation and destruction and over-exploitation of the natural environment.

As a child, the nearby Lower Selwyn, a river of crystal clear water, just outside Christchurch city (New Zealand), was clean enough to swim in (and probably drink too). The daily bag limit was 10 brown trout… which could sometimes be caught in less than an hour.

Nowadays the bag limit is 2 fish and it would be a very lucky fisherman who catches more than 1 in a whole day. The water is polluted with run-off from dairy farms and the quantity of water flow is now so low, and with increased silting-up, you can now walk across where previously it was several metres deep… thanks to dairy farmers pumping so much water out of the underlying underground aquifer.

When our locally elected body “Environment Canterbury” tried to at least ensure that water use applications were vetted in those areas where groundwater resources had already been over-allocated, the central Government (in Wellington) simply sacked our elected representatives and installed their mates.

Initially they promised that democratic elections would be held again after 3 years, however after 2 years they said they really enjoyed the new powers they had at directly controlling Canterbury’s water and environment, and said that it would be 6 years at least, before Canterbury people might again get to have some control of our local environment.

The rubber-stamping of consents for water extraction and new dams and irrigation schemes has continued at a hectic pace. This is a tragedy in several ways. If less wide-scale irrigation was permitted, then Canterbury could lead the world at developing systems enabling productive agriculture and horticulture in an area that is “Summer semi-arid”.

Crops like Olives, Pomegranites, Pistachio nuts and the alley-farming of Acacia and Tagasaste for stock feed could be more highly developed and used. Currently these crops and systems are very rare in Canterbury, despite the fact we have squillions of acres well suited to it.

When will OUR chickens come home to roost ?


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