Tags: flood | Madeira | planning | dead

Unbridled Development Worsens Madeira Flood

Monday, 22 Feb 2010 09:52 AM


LISBON - Three decades of breakneck development and rogue urban planning are to blame for the heavy toll from weekend flash floods on Portugal's tourist island of Madeira, environmentalists said Monday.

Portugal was in mourning after torrents of muddy water swamped the mountainous Atlantic island on Saturday, killing 42 people and injuring scores more as the flooding demolished houses and overturned cars.

But for green groups and construction experts, Madeira was left vulnerable to a flood disaster by careless development.

"What happened in Madeira is a textbook example of the dangers of bad urban planning," agreed Ricardo Ribeiro, head of a Portuguese association of public safety technicians.

The Portuguese island, which lies 500 kilometers (300 miles) off the Moroccan coast, has undergone a spectacular modernization in the past 30 years, largely thanks to European Union funds to channeled to poor, outlying regions.

Tourists from northern Europe flock each year to its capital Funchal, now a small city of 100,000 people boasting waterfront luxury hotels and holiday resorts and state-of-the-art infrastructure.

To cater for the tourism boom, a four-lane highway now runs a ring around the island of 57 by 22 kilometers, while critics says dozens of road tunnels have turned Madeira into a concrete "Swiss cheese."

Green groups have long accused the island's president since 1978, Alberto Joao Jardim, of promoting sprawl with little regard for environmental safety.

For Helder Spinola of the Quercus green group, "heavy rains are not the only explanation for the disaster."

"Planning mistakes made the situation worse," he charged.

Hundreds of buildings have sprung up on land prone to flooding, he says, while the concreting-over of much of Madeira's coast now prevents water from seeping into the soil, making the flood risk worse.

Building roads, high-rise hotels and infrastructure near Madeira's waterways has "waterproofed the soil with concrete and tarmac," he says, a problem particularly acute in the south where most of its 250,000 inhabitants live.

None of the three main rivers that cross Madeira are able to run freely into the surrounding soil, he says.

On Saturday, "these waterways became water cannons sweeping away bridges and buildings," said Portuguese far-left politician Francisco Louca.

Joao Carlos Silva, an opposition Socialist lawmaker in the Madeira regional assembly, also took aim at the "chaotic urbanization" in and around Funchal, claiming to have repeatedly warned the authorities of the flood risk.

Maderia's regional authorities declined to comment on the accusations, dismissed as "ridiculous" by Funchal's mayor Miguel Albuquerque who said the disaster was caused by "an exceptional weather phenomenon."

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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2010-52-22
Monday, 22 Feb 2010 09:52 AM
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