Rains Shut Down Costa Rica's Roads...


Our Rainy season is very predictable.  From the May/June timeframe through Oct/Nov, Costa Rica generally experiences daily rain events that experienced residents take in stride.  We know to get our "outside" errands done before 1 o'clock because that's Usually when the rains move in.  Having lived nearly the first half of our lives in South Florida, this was nothing new to me or Fran.

Last year (2009) was our first experience with Costa Rica's rainy season.  To say it was mild (by our standards) would be an understatement.  But now in 2010, it's a whole other story.  While Costa Rica is usually spared the force of tropical hurricanes, we are impacted by the occasional tropical wave, starting north near Nicaragua or Colombia.  They then usually track south, gaining strength, bypassing our shores but eventually slamming into Belize, Guatemala, the Yucatan, Cuba and eventually the U.S.

That's what is happening this year but with greater frequency.  The rains from these low pressure systems are wreaking havoc on Costa Rica's poorly engineered and even more poorly maintained highway system.

You all have heard the term "paving over the cart path."  It is a term that is generally used to describe how solutions are applied to badly formed "original ideas."  Such is evident with Costa Rica's primary and secondary road systems.  These torrential rains are causing major landslides on a daily basis.  Highways, which are cut through mountainous regions are particularly vulnerable.  The heavy rains loosen the soil and eventually allow the heavy rock and mud to come crashing down on highways, sometimes entire towns.

Why is this happening?

In my opinion, there are two reasons, the physical and the political.

The physical reason is due to the radical hillside angle in which the road was cut through a particular area.  In many cases, the hillside butts directly up to the road at angles approaching 90 degrees?  When the hill top become overly saturated with rain water, the weight becomes to great and the soil gives way.

The political reason is more insidious. 

Had the "experts in charge" expropriated an adequate amount of land at the time of pre-construction, the hillsides could have been cut back much farther, thereby yielding greater angles of hillside slope.  This graceful sloping method of construction, along with adequate drainage, could have eliminated many of the problems which are occurring even as I write this newsletter.  This problem is nothing new to Costa Rica.

It's not just happening on highways which were built 50 or 60 years ago, but it is happening on roads that are being built today.   The engineers in charge of new road design know this country's weather patterns and history and know the problems that will arise if they keep designing in the status quo.  They are aware of the eventual results.  But in my (not so) humble of an opinion), the real culprits are the politicians and people in authority who oversee these projects and do not intervene on our behalf.

Today, Friday Morning, October 1, 2011, President Laura Chinchilla has decreed Costa Rica to be in a State of Emergency.  This will qualify the country to collect more than 5 billion colones ($10 million USD) to provide assistance and will also be used in infrastructure to help repair dozens of highways and national and roads which incurred damaged.  The government will also apply $19 million dollars (USD) in loans from World Bank to assist the disasters.

Let's see how much of this money actually makes it to the roads!




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