GEORGETOWN GUYANA – Flooding Woes – commentary

Stabroek NewsGEORGETOWN GUYANA – Flooding Woes – commentary

[June 7, 2015 – Stabroek News Editorial]

The municipality has 50 miles of canals, 12 outfalls, 13 kokers and 8 [?] pumps under its control. Many of the kokers are in some state of disrepair and a few are dysfunctional, while maintenance practices are open to question. Furthermore, it has been known for years that more infrastructure is required for the city, although even with respect to the system which exists already the records of the various elements are incomplete. There is, in addition, no disaster preparedness plan in existence for Georgetown.

No, this information was not obtained from a report produced last week, but from one which was submitted in May 2005, by a Canadian technical team that came here to undertake a rapid assessment of disaster preparedness, public health and municipal infrastructure following the Great Flood. Never mind, with the exception of the number of pumps servicing the capital, it might as well have been written yesterday.   

Perhaps that is what exasperates citizens most of all: after the devastating experience of the 2005 flood one might have expected that a major investigation of drainage and irrigation would have been undertaken, and following that, meaningful measures put in place with finance from central government being provided. This was certainly spoken of − in relation to the entire lower East Coast, and not just Georgetown – but nothing much eventuated. In the early days of the January 2005 flood former President Jagdeo had talked about mobilizing a team of engineers, both local and foreign, to revamp the drainage system, but the East Coast conservancy and its outlets apart, we are still waiting for this team of engineers, never mind the revamping.

Nine years before this, in 1996, when flooding affected seven of our ten regions, Mr Jagdeo, who was Finance Minister at the time, told this newspaper that the government would have to raise $1 billion for a flood control project. Clearly the previous administration baulked at the size of the outlay, and went the route instead of emergency works when these could not be avoided, as well as flood relief payments for those affected. These payouts amounted to $50 million in 1996, and had doubled by the year 2000 when there was another inundation and $100 million was distributed among the victims. How much more financial sense it would have made if the last government had committed itself to taking on comprehensive drainage rehabilitation nineteen years ago – or even ten years ago.

So here we are in the capital, a decade after the Great Flood, still hearing about only ten sluices operational out of a total of 13; only two pumps working out of six; and the usual blocked outfalls, broken kokers and silted up canals. One might add to that list − as Mr Dewar, formerly of the old Georgetown Water & Sewerage Commissioners did in a letter to this newspaper last week − broken culverts all over the city; and, as an anonymous drainage expert told us, clogged secondary and tertiary drains.

In addition, it doesn’t need an engineer to tell residents that the city’s water woes have been exacerbated by the lack of enforcement of the by-laws, so parapets and yards have been concreted over reducing the area of earth which can absorb the water. In the process, drains have been covered too, inhibiting access for cleaning and in some cases leaving the water with no proper channels in which to flow, save onto the roads and into neighbouring yards.

Then of course, there are the infamous littering habits of city residents with garbage clogging every watercourse in Georgetown, not to mention along the coast as well. There are litter laws on the statute books, but no one bothers about them, least of all the City Constabulary.

Of course, in the capital drainage issues over the last two decades also fell hostage to politics, and not to put too fine a point on it, the PPP/C government punished Georgetown by starving it of funds. It also left incompetents in charge of the bureaucracy for an extended period, and then latterly, sent in someone as Town Clerk whose brief clearly was to stymie every possible sensible measure. The aim was to blame the Mayor and the City Council for the state of the city, but residents were more discerning than the then government gave them credit for.

One thing that has to be said is that the new Minister of Infrastructure, Mr David Patterson, acted with alacrity once the water started rising, and work began immediately on kokers, sluices canals and pumps. That, however, is only a temporary palliative, not a long-term solution. Nevertheless, cabinet approved $75 million for current works – the clearing of the outfalls alone, it was reported, could cost anywhere from $15 million to $20 million each.

Last week the Minister met with representatives of all the agencies responsible for drainage, including Mayor Hamilton Green. It might be remarked en passant that now the latter has a more sympathetic government to work with there will be no more excuses for dereliction of duty on the part of the M&CC. Be that as it may, Mr Patterson was constrained to comment on the fact that too many agencies were responsible for irrigation and drainage, although he did not go as far as to suggest bureaucratic rationalization at this stage.

What the citizens would like to hear is that there will be a comprehensive investigation into drainage infrastructure and related issues, and that following this review the government will treat the matter as a priority and come up with ways to fund whatever initiatives are proposed. We cannot go on indefinitely like this living for portions of the year in a subterranean world. However, Mr Patterson did give some cause for cautious optimism when he told the media that cabinet had approved the formation of a Public Infrastructure Task Force comprising various agencies and members of civil society to assess drainage reform for the city.

He also said that a full mapping of the current drainage and sewerage network would be necessary for the task force to be able to do its work. It might be observed that officers of the city council provided some of the foreign experts who came here in 2005 with drainage maps for the area within the traditional boundaries of the city, at least, and one would like to believe that these are still available. In any event, all of this sounds more like the kind of approach we have been waiting for since 2005.

As for the littering disease which is responsible for obstructing the water flow in the drains and canals, that strictly speaking does not come under Minister Patterson’s jurisdiction, but rather that of Minister Bulkan. Remarkable work in the last two weeks has been done by citizens and business entities of all kinds in clearing the city. However, maintaining a clean environment cannot depend on volunteer workers; as with everything else in government, there have to be systems in place and there has to be enforcement of the laws. We wait to see what proposals the new administration will put forward on that front.

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  • Sherwood  On 06/08/2015 at 4:19 am

    Guyanese do not need to be told about what is going to happen if we continue to litter. Block drains, floods and with that the associated problems. We have to make garbage disposal a priority. The first step is to provide garbage bins colour- coded for the various types of garbage. For example, food waste only in black bins, plastics and only plastics including empty water bottles and food containers, in yellow bins, bottles in green bins and so on. The content of the food only bins can be fed to pigs while the content of the plastic bins could be pulverised and exported to other countries to be used in their textile and other industries. This will also help in financing the scheme.
    Anyway, however we look at it, something has to be done to keep Georgetown clean and flood free.

  • Leslie Chin  On 06/08/2015 at 8:16 am

    A new broom sweeps clean. The great clean up has started in Georgetown. Let’s hope they can finish it (please note the old photographs of Guyana, quite a contrast) . It appears that the authorities responsible for infrastructure management and maintenance need a plan. They should start by listing/identifying all the facilities to be maintained (roads, parapets, embankments, canals, bridges, kokers, pumps, etc.) and prepare a schedule for carrying out the maintenance activities. The authority/person responsible for carrying out the activities should be clearly identified. There should be a check back to ensure that the activities have been completed satisfactorily. The government and city/village council should ensure that there is adequate resources/funding and mobilise volunteers as necessary.

    Georgetown can solve their two problems, garbage and flooding, at the same time by building landfill sites. Most North American cities have landfill sites for garbage disposal. The city should use the debris collected to build a landfill mound 50-100ft high to be used for light construction later. Venice, Amstersdam and Kansai Airport in Japan are built on soft ground with piles driven into the ground. It can be done. The landfill sites will produce methane which can be used for generating electrical power.

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