Georgetown, Guyana: An inundated city once again

Georgetown Guyana: An inundated city

Long boots were the only sensible option at Bourda Market.JANUARY 17, 2014 | BY  |  EDITORIAL

The rains came with a vengeance on Tuesday, January 14, 2014  and as has become the norm, the city flooded. There was water covering almost every street to the extent that motorists had to drive carefully, if only to avoid the ditches that lined the roads.

[Picture shows flooding at Bourda Market]

The water rushed into homes and destroyed carpeting and furniture. In one home there was as much as ten inches of water in the bottom flat. Schools closed their doors for the second time in as many months and people had to wade to get to and from their homes. 

Heavy rain floods city againPeople grumbled and the government took aim at City Hall, blaming it for the deterioration of the city. And indeed it would appear that City Hall needed to be blamed, because this constant flooding of the city is something new. People who lived in the city almost all their lives now say that they could not recall the city being flooded after what they called a relatively mild shower.

The truth was that the Dutch who designed Georgetown recognised that it was below sea level and that there needed to be a network of canals to trap excess water when it rained and the tide was in. When the tide went out, the sluices at the mouth of the canals were raised and the city drained. It was an efficient system that worked for close to two centuries.

That the city is flooding today suggests that the new rulers have disturbed the equation that saw the city enjoying that delicate balance between the tides and water on the land. In the 1970s the government filled some of the canals on the advice of the present-day engineers. These engineers contended that the city was growing and that there was need for the roads to accommodate the growing number of cars.

Coincident with this decision was the deterioration of the discipline that governed city life. From placing their refuse in containers, people began to throw their litter into the streets and drains. Homeowners refused to clean the inter-lot drains and before long these disappeared.  Water no longer collected in the inter-lot drains and so remained on the land to compound the volume that could not find its way into the now non-existent canal.

In many societies, having been bitten by the flood bug, people would have spearheaded a campaign to restore their city. Guyanese are a different breed; as a people they expect to see their elected leaders doing what needs to be done by way of city restoration.

City Hall for some time has been calling for money to manage its affairs. Inflation had taken a toll, so more money had to be found for pay increases. At the same time homeowners were not too keen to pay higher rates and taxes; they fought any pay increase tooth and nail. To crown it, they had a government to support them.

One thing often leads to another. In this case the floods led to many things. Culturally, we bury our dead after a funeral service. The floods put paid to that cultural activity. Should we consider cremation? Perhaps we should because the cemetery, once a picturesque location that adorned stamps and postcards, is now a miniature jungle.

There was a time when we covered tombs with garbage, now we cannot even access fresh tombs, because the canals that border the cemetery are weed-choked and blocked in some cases.  This past week many people, among them a retired Deputy Police Commissioner and a prominent communicator, could not be laid to rest after their funeral services.

That is only one aspect. The flooded cemetery is a breeding ground for diseases with water leaching from tombs and graves. The time may be now for people to effect a cultural change. Strange as this may seem, Guyanese leave these shores for foreign lands and immediately they adopt a change in attitude.

The government spent $42 million clearing some of the canals and outfalls. Had this not been done, one is left to imagine what the state of the city would have been.
We must now contemplate measures to end flooding.

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  • de castro  On January 17, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Global warming means higher sea levels…..GT one of its victims.
    Solution….move city more inland on higher ground….build infrastructure
    for new city with incentives for businesses to re-locate….waivering taxes.
    Industrial estates will soon follow with small/large scale manufacturing.

    Linden already uses the river to ship its bauxite to its markets.
    Containerise cargo the future of moving cargo worldwide.
    Invite outsiders to build the city if the investment is not
    available locally…but do something now.
    Am sure the Roraima state governor in Brazil would
    love to be invited to participate in the discussions.
    He wants a route via Guyana to US and world markets
    via Amazon shortest route…come on Guyana move forward.
    Wake up !

  • Malcolm Singh  On January 17, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    In my view we have to blame all resident Guyanese for the mess we’re in.

    As this article rightly points out, we have to get back to the time when excess rainfall and ocean overflow were collected in canals during the high tides and then released into the ocean at low tides.
    We need working Kokers /Sluices, Laborers to remove the debris, Trucks to transport this garbage and a Location to deposit it.(Of course there is also administration and other costs associated with this project.

    The question is how do we pay for this project.
    Here are some ideas.
    1. Guyana now has an inside track to high ranking officials in various “1st world countries” who are after our resources. Lets ask them for help.
    2. Add a ‘one time tax’ to everyone that has a job.
    3. Have fines or community services for dumping.
    4. Every home owner must have a garbage bin and a recycle bin.
    5. Garbage must be collected weekly.
    6. Compositing should be encouraged.
    7. The residents should be informed on the benefits of a clean city.
    8. These additional costs must be passed on to consumers
    9. Ask the citizens for ideas on a cleaner city – get the people involved.

    This list is far from complete and I will leave that to the experts.

    Finally, our elected officials, those at City Hall and in Parliament must work together for the good of the country. It is time to clean up this mess.

    • de castro  On January 19, 2014 at 6:32 am

      Malcolm I share your sentiments/most of your suggestion but not the
      Start planing a new city now …yesterday not today or tomorrow.
      Sometimes it is more cost effective to bulldoze and old building
      than to renovate it… not suggesting that GT should be ullldozed
      and rebuilt.

      May I suggest somewhere higher up on dem river before LINDEN.
      Bauxite is already being shipped to ROW by cargo ships.
      Waterways are the most effective/efficient method of moving bulk
      cargo…for centuries….
      Businesses in GT can be offered incentives to re-locate….
      Industrial estate can accommodate manufacturing factories..
      with road rail and water routes to “Old city” and beyond.
      Begin the infrastructure for “new city” now….inviting internal/external
      parties to participate in the construction if necessary…..all lands leasehold
      with local government deciding on “use age” …use it or loose it.
      I will offer my services “ex-gratia” for the purpose as I believe it
      is the way forward….it is not rocket science…just visit Brazilla
      new capital of Brazil in the middle of nowhere.

      Roarima state govenor is desperate for a tarmac road link north
      to north america and world market for its exports…bridge already
      operational.I completed the journey year ago GT LINDEN LETHEM
      in convoy of three vehicles …stuck in mud etc….

      As am a bit of a sentimentalist about the “Garden city” may I suggest
      it becomes the VENICE of Latin america…waterways gondola et all….
      “City of love”….
      Try keeping water in than out ! In time global warming will ensure
      the possibility.

      The future is bright with containerise shipping taking the world by
      storm….most efficient least expensive.!!
      Sugar and rice and all that is nice is what Guyana is made of….nursery
      rhyme comes to mind ! Not frogs and snails or crocodile tears !!

      If my garden is always subject to flooding….I move it elsewhere.
      Commonsense approach to the problem.

      Seriously the powers that be in GT must act ASAP or be de-selected
      in MAY s election 2014….hopefully !
      Relocating GT is more economic than political issue.

      • Malcolm Singh  On January 19, 2014 at 4:21 pm

        These are good suggestions and I am sure there are many others to come.

        Planning a new city is always the best as we learn from the past.
        We know where to put everything, streets, government/office buildings, industries, transportation, homes, libraries, water, electricity, sewage etc.
        The major problems are designing and estimating the project costs, obtaining funds for the project, together with reliable administration, workers and suppliers.

        This is a long term project that requires a Government with a clear mandate, a supportive opposition and Guyanese to support this new direction.

        Finally, what we have said might be commonsense and appears to be easy to achieve. However, the Government on the other hand have many other things to do for the people and themselves including being re-elected for another term.

        I wish Guyana well!

  • Ron. Persaud  On January 17, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    “Guyanese are willing victims of Paternalistic government / management”.
    I said it.
    It needed to be said.
    And now, you may bash or debate as you please.
    My earliest recollection of this was in the early 50’s. The Governor of British Guiana (Sir Charles Woolley?) made a trip to England and obtained a sizable grant of a couple of million dollars.
    There was elation in Georgetown. People praised the King and Governor. All the ills and woes would now be erased.
    It did not happen, but to this day there is the sentiment, expressed by many, that the colonial days were better days!
    I heard of ‘Crosbie’s Office’ where indentured East Indians were ‘given satisfaction’.
    I certainly know of the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare fund through which qualified sugar workers ultimately owned their house lot for a dollar!
    SILWF had to fix bad roads, maintain Community Centers and their amenities.
    I know of times when the Admin. Manager of the estate held court every week and settled disputes – domestic and otherwise.
    Perhaps the best examples of self help help were the Polders of Black Bush; but here I am going by what others told me.
    “Bookers like a river! Nevah run dry” was an utterance that underscored this attitude of dependence on ‘Authority’.
    But those were different times.
    It is exciting to live in the 21st. century. There is so much more that is achievable physically, mentally and spiritually.
    I am not surprised that Georgetown is in its present condition.
    I imagine that people in places like Albuoystown (Is that spelt correctly?) who would sit by and watch their worldly possessions destroyed by the flooding so that they could point out their victimization. “Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle!”
    It is easy to generalize from the particular. I am sure that there are people and communities who ‘get up and get.”
    They are to be admired! I admire them.
    They ought to be emulated!!

    • de castro  On January 19, 2014 at 6:49 am

      Ron every word written above is an “inditement” “incitement”
      even excitement to read…..get off your a** and do something call !
      In 1950-60 s you would have been described as a “commie”….
      left winger….but in hindsight that is all history now….
      Your call for “revolution” I share….bloodless revolution….
      revolution of thinking and actions….the way forward !

      We cannot turn the clock back but we can learn from the mistakes of past
      by not repeating them.commonsense approach to our future.


  • de castro  On January 20, 2014 at 2:25 am

    Maybe HRH mayor and his subordinates should visit the New capital
    city in their neck of the woods BRAZILLIA for ideas on New capital of Guyana
    …scaled down to accommodate its demographics….
    To be a city you need 1million and a cathedral…old thinking !


  • gigi  On January 20, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    I keep reading comments about relocating Georgetown to the interior but I am not getting how we supposed to miraculously uproot G/T’s buildings, peoples, etc., move it to the interior and let G/T return to being marshlands rather than fix a fixable problem? Any suggestions?

    Great suggestions by Malcolm Singh with the exception on raising taxes on the poor people. Because raising taxes on the poor people means they have less money to spend, especially given the socioeconomic predicament of most Guyanese. Raise taxes on business because they have a vested interest in ensuing that not only their businesses succeed, but that their workers – the people behind their success – are able to get to work and are able to work and be productive (i.e, healthy and fit).

    I would also suggest a very popular and successful volunteer community effort called ‘adopt-a-highway/road/neighborhood/park.’ My family participated in this to keep our town and neighborhood clean and my husband’s employer adopted a highway with employees volunteering to keep a stretch of road clean. Not only does this negate or reduce gov’t/taxpayer cost, but it instills pride and commitment to community and it makes people think twice before littering. Get the kids and school children involve too because it will instill that value at an early age which they will take with them into adulthood when they become stewards of the gov’t and country. A suggestion would be to have businesses donate reusable water bottles,sun visors/hats, snacks (fruits). Also a great advertising opportunity for them.

    • de castro  On January 21, 2014 at 1:54 am

      No one is suggesting the “closing down” of GT in the short term…
      Global warming and expected consequences of higher tides in the next decades
      will do so naturally/eventually.
      What is being suggested is an industrial revolution for Guyana
      with a new city elsewhere on higher ground with access to old city
      of course. Build the infracture for industrial estate …water electricity
      roads etc even warehouses to accommodate manufacturing jobs
      and people will follow…factories producing by products of rice sugar
      fruit etc ….75+% of what Guyanese purchase/consume from supermarket/shops
      are imported….this is madness and not sustainable.

      Jobs created in manufacturing must also be sustainable by keeping
      labour costs competitive….
      I can go on and on but the opportunities are there and it must be encouraged
      by government/private sector….if jobs are not created Guyanese will loose
      citizens of tomorrow….there will be minus growth in demographics.
      The world is a global village ….Guyanese must think global and act local

      My spin…its not rocket science !

  • Gloria Y Fredericks  On January 21, 2014 at 3:07 am

    I disagree with Kampton. Would It not be more advantageous to take what we have (GT) and allocate the funds to do what is necessary to correct cause of flooding, implementing laws that will compel citizens to deal with their trash and garbage in a responsible way, do whatever is necessary to refurbish and repair Kokers, build the land up, and identify and address all necessary steps followed by taking corrective actions. Think about how many jobs will be created, and at the same time, lives of the citizens will only become minimally disrupted, as opposed to hundreds if not thousands of people uprooting themselves and venturing into unfamiliar territory, with as little chaos as possible. Think about the nuance that will confront the citizens. My take about relocating GT is that the funds will be better spent to restore the city rather than uprooting a select number of people and building a completely new city.
    Looking at your proposal from a Sociological perspective, you will consciously or unconsciously be creating a class society where the haves who could afford to rebuild will be tempted to leave and the have nots will have no other choice but to remain. Imagine the death and decay of GT where only those who could not afford to relocate will remain! Of course I could be shortsighted but never the less that’s my idea.

    • de castro  On January 21, 2014 at 3:52 am

      Gloria…I like your “sociological” perspective and all the harsh realities
      of it….there is already two distinct “classes” in GT… v poor….
      maybe a minute middle class…..”working class”….employs class.
      Georgetown is only a “town” …less than half a million souls.
      Smaller than most towns in the so called “developed” world…first world.
      I have lived in towns and cities but now retired prefer a “village” lifestyle….
      Why….peaceful tranquility where everyone knows/helps each other.
      I was born in a village GG ECD grew up in that village educated in GT
      then left Guyana to do military service in UK at 18….after my military
      service transgressing the globe RAF at taxpayers expense I returned
      to Guyana and three of my four children Guyana born….after a decade
      in Essequibo Bartica New Amsterdam Linden then GT I returned to UK
      to work for Royal Mail following a career as a trade unionist before
      retiring (pay off) on my 60th bday….since my retirement I have been travelling
      mostly southern Europe north america carribean and Latin america.
      I will continue travelling until my exit from the planet…health permitting.!!

      I visit Guyana whenever I can but usually only to pass through GT on
      my journies north/south.
      Maybe that is why my vision/dream of a new city was born…
      dreams can come true …and they are free…we can also make
      our dreams a reality.

      In self defence not self denial
      Kamptan de dreamer

  • malcolm heydorn  On January 21, 2014 at 4:35 am

    I have been reading with a certain degree of hilarity, about a number of proposed solutions to what ails this comatose land. Those of us who read Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”, may recall the response of the protagonist when asked how he went bankrupt; he simply replied,” Gradually, then suddenly”.
    Permit me to ask the same question of Guyana. Are we seeing this fair land in its final stage of demise? In my book, “Guyana at the Millennium Crossroads; A Psychosocial Perspective”, I made the prediction that should Guyana not engage in a complete transformation of ideas, in all aspects of life(social , political, psychological, etc.) it is doomed to complete self destruction. It appears that I’ve become a prophet, in this regard.
    Too often, well intentioned people offer solutions to a problem as they see it, but in so doing, they miss the complete picture.
    One must not overlook the fact that Guyana consists of two, maybe three dominant political parties, that are at each other’s throats, all rooted in racial preferences. One ought not dismiss the fact that the Afro -guyanese cannot see themselves governed by Indo-guyanese political leadership, and vice versa.
    Progress is virtually impossible, in an environment of mistrust, fear, hooliganism, theft, bribery, murder, etc.; this scourge is what needs to be eradicated, and only then can meaningful solutions to Guyana’s ailments be effective.
    I do not hold out much hope for Guyana, unless the current malaise caused by the inculcated stereotypical thought processes of its political leaderships, and their hypnotic hold on their supporters, both young and old, is completely diminished, setting the stage for a refreshed political outlook, based not on prejudice, but on total respect for the individual, regardless of race.

  • de castro  On January 21, 2014 at 8:25 am

    Absolutely analitical factual prognosis….Guyana’s solution is more
    political than economic….
    However forever the optimist I believe change will come “eventually”
    rather than suddenly….overnight.
    The next generations of Guyanese will demand this change hopefully in
    a peaceful and bloodless revolution….influenced by “fairness” and “justice”
    that our world is demanding… media internet et all….
    Doom and gloom is not my gospel ….more so boom and bust.

    Hopefully the change for Guyana and Guyanese comes sooner than later.

    Will certainly read your book “GUYANA AT THE MILLENNIUM CROSSROADS”

    Thanks for an enlightened perspective on things guyanese Malcolm Haydorn.

  • malcolm heydorn  On January 22, 2014 at 1:20 am

    de castro;.. Thank you for taking the time to read and assess my contribution, of the 21st. I would hope that the power brokers stationed in Guyana would take the time to at least articulate what has been said, and at the very least, open up a meaningful dialogue amongst themselves and the general population, in meeting places, schools etc.; one might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

  • Ron. Persaud  On January 24, 2014 at 3:12 am

    Whether we look at the forest or the tree, what we see can be imagined as “the glass half full” or “the glass half empty”.
    We are each circumscribed by our experience and vision.
    But I would seriously question the motive and motivation of a “prophet of doom” regarding with hilarity “the short and simple annals” of those with two feet planted firmly on the ground at the bole of their familiar tree.

  • malcolm heydorn  On January 24, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Hello, You have just added to the level of hilarity, in the words of your recent faint sarcastic attempt at derision, not unlike the pattern of dialog used by the current “crop” of politicians at play, in this land of many waters; the fruit never drops far from the tree.
    I take it that I am the identified “prophet of doom”..If so, I would proudly wear this mantle, as it applies to Guyana’s intolerable political “seance”.
    Again, you seem to question the motive of this “prophet” Perhaps you may want to parlay what you construe as the motive. Finally, let me point out that this “simpleton” never grew up with a “golden spoon in his mouth”; I never drank from the saucer because the cup was full. If indeed I drank from the saucer, it was because the cup was empty, all because of the political maschinations of the day, which is still in full sway as I write .But I got off my “ass”, and instead of defending a corrupt political system, I was forced to leave the land of my birth, and by studying my “balls” off, I managed to reach a fairly high level of academic success in a foreign land that was happy to have me. I recommend this route to all those with any ambition, in that country In the words of a famous author; ” Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for you”.

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