A bus ride on a rainy Wednesday afternoon

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floods
On the Pan-American Highway through La Chorrera district, not far west of La Espiga. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Not just the rains, but a problem with the drains

by Eric Jackson

On a Wednesday afternoon coming back from the city, it was raining and just past La Espiga the traffic slowed to a crawl. Off the the right side (north, inland) came a stream of water will all manner of garbage and a lot of plant material floating along in the rushing water. It was lapping over the road. A bit farther a little penetration road was a torrent of muddy water flowing right on to the road. Farther yet there was muddy water washing out of the hills onto the eastbound lane and coming across onto this one. It led to a discussion about meteorology, climate, drainage system and occupational hazards with the bus driver.

Will the enhanced Chinese involvement with Panama bring some of their taboos with them? Uh oh. You can get shot in China for being a journalist who says that there have been floods in which a contributing factor is bad maintenance of the drainage system. Yes, it was a seaonal tropical cloudburst, but by all appearances also poorly maintained drains and people building things that add burdens to the system without a second thought. Back in Michigan you might get hassled by the drain commissioner for that, and the drain commissioner might lose his or her job in the next county election for allowing such problems to accumulate.

In the Confucian tradition governments have the Mandate of Heaven, of which natural disasters are a harbinger of it having been lost. Mao’s old faction in the top Chinese leadership had one of China’s deadliest earthquakes on its brief watch, which was a very pre-communist reason to say “Down with the Gang of Four.” Especially when coupled with allegations that thousands died because of botched relief efforts by ideologues who weren’t good managers.

A flood, of course, is one of those things. A flood in which the ancient dikes and levees and dams, storm drains and canals have not been maintained? So scandalous as to cause a government to fall. The Mongol emperors lost their grip on the Middle Kingdom after major floods on the Huang and Huai rivers set off a revolt of Han peasants. When more than a million people died in the 1887 floods along the Yellow River, it was taken as an omen that Empress Dowager Cixi’s legitimacy was at an end. Thus in a place where freedom of the press is an alien idea to begin with, it can be a death penalty sort of seditious thing to report.

Homes and people were not washed away on this day in La Chorrera district. The driver and I wondered whether more people are killed in traffic accidents in heavy rains than people who drown in them. The government does not publish such comparisons, although they might be distilled out from public records.

Anyway, on a bus ride on a weekday afternoon a problem with the local drainage system affected and was visible from the Pan-American Highway.

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