“The government should actually take the lead by making necessary laws”
Living in the northern part of Paramaribo, in Suriname, has been very difficult for the past three decades.
Research and predictions from experts indicate serious consequences due to the rising sea levels. However, the community has not been taking these warnings to heart. This area does carry its risks and concrete actions by the government to protect the residents against a possible catastrophe have not yet been taken.
“It’s a beautiful and quiet neighborhood. So far, I have no regrets about my decision,” says R.M. about his new home in the northern part of Paramaribo. His recently purchased house is located in Project North Area One.
This is a housing project from Pan American Real Estate, where 561 homes have been built. The price per house is approximately 36,000 Euros. The execution of this project is in collaboration with the government. It was announced earlier that the Surinamese government had allocated an amount of USD 7.5 million, for the construction of utilities and roads in this project.
Compared to other houses in the same area, it is “a bargain” according to R.M. This is why he didn’t hesitate to make the investment.
“The developer has taken measures in order to protect us from flooding,” says R.M. further.
According to him, a good drainage system has been constructed in order to drain the excess water rapidly. In addition, the project underwent land raising prior to being developed. R.M. is aware of the concerns regarding the Northern part of Paramaribo. But given the various investments that are still being made in this area, he does not believe that the consequences will be as serious as those outlined by experts.
According to Christiaan Huisden, professor of Environmental Sciences at the Anton de Kom University, investments such as those mentioned above will not withstand the blows of nature.
“Of course, it’s a serious matter” says Christiaan Huisden, referring to the government that in some cases distributes property deeds for Paramaribo North. The Sabaku project, where dozens of land plots have been assigned, is the most recent case.
Therefore, Huisden is not surprised that people are still making sustainable investments in this highly risky area. According to him, the ‘bad example’ is taken over from the government.
“The government should actually take the lead by making the necessary laws and regulations so that the community is positively forced to make the right choices. People are still investing a lot of money in this dangerous area which is creeping with danger,” emphasizes Huisden.
He further points out that the government’s primary task is to provide the community with reliable and accurate information and to help them make the right choices.
“When the government itself sets a bad example, we should not be surprised if people do not heed the warnings such as the consequences of climate change. In the end, the people who choose to invest in Paramaribo North will have to pay the price and suffer a loss,” predicts the professor.
Huisden estimates that the area will no longer be habitable in approximately thirty to forty years.
However, it’s not too late to prevent a catastrophe. “Providing reliable and accurate information is always the first step because it raises awareness. Secondly comes policy, so laws and regulations need to be adapted.
Mitigation and adaptation measures must come as soon as possible. And above all, deeds for land in this area should no longer be distributed,” warns Huisden.
The professor shared that “As long as the developer can still gain something, he will not take into account what can happen in ten or twenty years. He’s going to try to make as much money as he can. That’s going to keep happening until it’s too late. Only then will people really realize it.”
He therefore believes that the government should protect the community from these types of opportunists.
Huisden does recognize the fact that implementing laws and regulations is difficult due to personal interests being at stake for the government officials. Lawmakers probably also live in the Northern part of Paramaribo. If the government starts making laws and regulations and executing information campaigns, the value of the plots in Paramaribo North where people have spent a lot of money, will decrease. People who have invested there then have an economic disadvantage. Nevertheless, I think that the government, from its responsibility, should at least inform people of the severity of the situation,” says the professor.
Lack of policy
Ebu Jones, a diplomat and member of the National Assembly (DNA) sitting in the opposition, claims that the current government has no clear policy to protect the country and its citizens from the effects of climate change.
“We are aware of the circumstances in the interior with extremely high water levels that require local residents to leave their homes weeks at a time. So far, it has become clear that the government is not able to sufficiently deal with this problem. Let alone if large parts of Paramaribo North are flooded. What then?” he wonders.
Jones believes that the Ministry of Spatial Planning and the Environment, which was introduced in 2020, should demand a more aggressive role within this issue. “You would think that this ministry would take into account the division of the country when looking at the consequences of climate change that may come our way. We can however see that this is not happening. On the contrary, we see that the Ministry of Public Works keeps granting permission to developers to set up housing projects in this high-risk area.”
According to the diplomat, this is proof that the government has no policy to protect the community from climate change. “This area could, for example, be used to set up natural coastal protection systems. I am thinking, for example, of the installation of large mangrove forests in this specific area to prevent calving.” Both Jones and Huisden, believe that a major disaster can still be prevented with the right approach from the government. This must be done within a very short period of time. “They have to start with a clear course of actions to undertake planning. So that we know which direction we are headed in”. Different trials to get a reaction from government officials for this story were not successful.