November 4th: The day Santo Domingo was seen helpless against unpredictable flooding

By Daniela Morales, 10th Grade

Last Friday, November 4th, in the late afternoon-early evening heavy rain began to descend in Santo Domingo. 

It is not uncommon for it to rain in the Dominican Republic, especially when we are experiencing hurricane season, but when in 3 hours more than 50% of the rain expected for the whole month falls, there is nothing left but to be concerned (Diario Libre, 2021). Authorities responded and 21 provinces were declared under alert, but the spontaneity of the event had taken everyone off-guard. University students, teachers, families, and other groups of people were going on their usual Friday diligences and couldn’t get back home because of the rain. Cars sank and some of them took their owners along with them, people disappeared, and 8 lives were lost. 

After all of this, people inevitably formulated theories about what occurred. The 3 most talked about are the following: climate change, poor-city planning, and the mismanagement of waste by Dominicans. I’ll be explaining why these 3 factors all had a role in the rain and flooding that accompanied it. 

First, let’s see how climate change is currently affecting the Dominican Republic. The key to understanding how climate change impacts the Dominican Republic is knowing that this country is a part of the Caribbean, and the region as a whole is vulnerable. Caribbean countries are characterized by having economic activities that rely on a stable climate, like agriculture and tourism, which makes them fragile to any drastic change in the climate’s pattern (BID, 2022). Climate change can pose many consequences such as rising sea levels, heat waves, droughts, floods, the loss of habitat, the emergence of diseases, and economic uncertainty. In the Dominican Republic, many past examples serve as a reminder of the socioeconomic implications of climate change. 

From 2016-2017, the northern region of the country was experiencing constant heavy rains. As a result, the municipality of Puerto Plata lost around 25 million Dominican pesos due to infrastructural damage and crop loss (Hoy, 2017). Due to an increase in humidity, mosquitoes carrying diseases like dengue and zika had a chance to proliferate and infect many Dominicans. In another instance, in 2013-2014 the country was going through a period of drought after a tropical phenomenon called El Niño, and the price of plantain, a popular product, reached up to 30 Dominican pesos per unit (Hoy, 2017). Although these examples are very different from what happened last Friday, they demonstrate how climate change doesn’t follow a specific pattern on when, where, and how it manifests in a country’s territory, and yet it is always present. Climate change is a reality that shapes every weather occurrence we experience now, so it is one of the factors that led up to Friday’s flooding. 

Moving on to poor city planning, this is mostly a people vs. government issue. Poor city planning is something that the country has struggled with for many years, and that administrations have managed to improve but not solve. Climate change is something that needs a collective effort from the whole international community, but city planning is something that each government has to take accountability for, and ours is not up to its full potential. Osiris de León, a Dominican engineer, spoke about the damages seen on November 4th, saying that the drainage system Santo Domingo has is unfit and should be reorganized and reconstructed with stronger material and vertical and horizontal support systems (Cabrera, 2022). 

The infrastructural issue we have right now is surprising to hear about when you look at past incidents that should have been enough to raise alarms. In 2017, as I had explained, there was an intense period of rain. The effects of this were the following: the disintegration of 42 bridges, 13 highways, and 18 neighborhood roads, and the evacuation of 8,000 people from their homes (elDinero, 2017). Apart from this, 40% percent of rice production was lost and the repair costs for all damages totaled a staggering 5 billion Dominican pesos. Taking incidents like this and the river-like city views a lot of us have in our minds from past floodings of the city, poor city planning being a factor of the damages caused on November 4th isn’t a wild conclusion.

Not only is the drainage system not working correctly, but there’s also an issue with the subsoil of Santo Domingo. Domingo Contreras, a Dominican politician, said that 80% of Santo Domingo’s subsoil cannot absorb water efficiently because of urbanization and the accumulation of remainders from construction materials like cement (Lluberes, 2022). This is important to recognize because sometimes, governments are so eager for modernization that they don’t take enough environmental precautions and are left to regret their carelessness when the projects backfire.

Finally, let’s talk about the last theory: the mismanagement of waste by Dominicans. It’s a cultural thing, and we can admit it, Dominicans don’t care about throwing trash in the streets, and we often don’t stop to consider how this could negatively affect us. The management of waste goes hand in hand with poor city planning because although we don’t have the best drainage system, when it gets congested with trash it only gets worse. 

Scuppers, which you probably won’t recognize by the name, are those openings at the side of streets that are responsible for taking some of the water when there’s a lot of rain so that the drainage system doesn’t have to deal with all of it. Only 30% of Santo Domingo’s streets have them but since they are filled with trash, they can’t absorb water (Tejada 2022). When the incident happened on Friday, all 800 of the scuppers Santo Domingo had were packed with both household and individual waste that civilians have no shame in stationing on the streets they transit daily (Lluberres, 2022). The drainage system was left to take all the water, and we all know how that turned out. 

After the mayhem on November 4th, a lot of experts and even simply civilians have expressed their opinions on how the situation should have been handled by the government and what the causes were. However, as we have seen all three theories are factors that led up to the flooding, but most importantly, all three of them are nothing new, and yet they still are a problem. A lot of talking has been done, but action is left with a long way to go. Both the government and the citizens have to recognize the importance of climate disasters and compromise on mitigation plans that everyone can follow. It shouldn’t only be about what the government does, but about what we citizens do to ensure the well-being of the country we live in. 



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