More flooding in Guyana – July 2015

More flooding

Editorial – Stabroek News 17 July 2015

David Patterson must be the most unfortunate of ministers. There he was, blessed with that all-important attribute which is so rarely found among members of Guyana’s governing classes ‒ common sense ‒ setting up task forces, getting pumps mended, desilting canals and generally cleaning up Georgetown, when we were visited by yet another pluvial inundation. And this time, the rain was relentless. So here we are again, with rivers flowing down our major thoroughfares and lakes swirling in suburbia. Venice, it must be said, has nothing on GT.

Minister Patterson’s activism and practicality has resulted in the cleanest city we have seen in decades, in addition to which all the pumps are operational and only one sluice – that at Sussex Street – non-functional because it is under repairs. Clearing the outfalls is a much more large-scale and costly operation, but work was due to start on that if it has not already done so. The Minister’s task force for Georgetown was later expanded to encompass flooding in all the regions, and he had, incidentally, also expressed an interest in a general restoration of the capital.  

And yet, after all of that, we are submerged once more, with the city’s flooding problems being replicated along the lower East Coast as well. The Minister had said before that the gravity drainage on which Georgetown depends was now insufficient to take off the accumulated water with the expedition which is required, and there is no resident who will disagree with him there. How we reached this point is well known, and contrary to the rather silly press release issued by the PPP/C, the origin of our flooding issues goes back at least two decades, if not more. It did not begin in the two months or so since the coalition assumed office; the previous government boasts innumerable flooding episodes of its own, not the least of which was the 2005 Great Flood.

In terms of the city, at least (as opposed to the conservancy to which the last administration did direct both effort and finances), there were no sustained attempts on the part of the previous government to address the problems with a long-term view in mind, or to look at the infrastructure with the intention of making it fit for purpose. Furthermore, the fractious relations between the last government and the city council were not conducive to getting anything much done, while the former’s choice of key municipal officers served to hinder the implementation of any meaningful measures which might have been suggested.

But that is in the past. Yesterday, the media were informed that President David Granger held a 4 am emergency cabinet meeting – this must be a first – which was resumed at 8 am. Having learnt from the experience of 2005, no doubt, the government acted with some dispatch, directing an aerial survey of the coast to establish the extent of the flooding, and the establishment of shelters where necessary, among other things.

What is clearly needed, however, is a thorough review of the drainage infrastructure, following which decisions would have to be taken about what would be required to drain the city and the coast effectively; what protocols would be necessary to maintain that infrastructure, and how the bureaucratic responsibilities should be apportioned for greatest efficiency. All of that would take huge sums, something of which the government is well aware. However, one presumes that cognizance would be taken in the budget of the coast’s drainage imperatives, and the citizens of Georgetown in particular await to see what the administration’s plans are in that department.

But there is something else too: The presumption is that some of our problems relate to issues connected to global warming, and in the popular mind the thinking is that the incidence of the kind of flooding we have been seeing in recent years will increase. Governments with possible five-year life spans are rarely keen on looking at the long term, but in this instance they owe it to us to do so.

We need to contract specialists in the field to review our coastal prospects, and advise us about what we could expect in say ten, twenty and thirty years’ time. How viable is our existence on the coast, and in particular, in Georgetown? What kind of drainage adjustments would we have to make to continue living in the most fertile part of Guyana? We need to know the nature of the issues we might have to face further down the line, so we can gauge whether we can address them, and if we can, how that is best done.

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  • compton de castro  On 07/18/2015 at 3:52 am

    Am absolutely “fed up” with preaching on this issue…..
    Move the city nearer international airport on higher ground…..not rocket science.
    BRAZILLIA was a city created in middle of nowhere.
    Invite their town planners for consultation.
    Just get on with “doing something positive” …..what are GT planners waiting for ? Tsunami !
    If I can avoid GT in my travels to Guyana I do.

    Walk the talk


    • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 07/18/2015 at 2:36 pm

      I’m with you there, Compton. I was pleased to note that the editor raised some important questions in his final paragraph:

      “We need to contract specialists in the field to review our coastal prospects, and advise us about what we could expect in say ten, twenty and thirty years’ time. How viable is our existence on the coast, and in particular, in Georgetown? What kind of drainage adjustments would we have to make to continue living in the most fertile part of Guyana? We need to know the nature of the issues we might have to face further down the line, so we can gauge whether we can address them, and if we can, how that is best done.”

  • Norman Tewarie  On 07/18/2015 at 7:07 am

    Compton, I couldn’t say it better.
    Kudos to the new Minister for trying his best. Whatever is done is not good enough for next year THE same thing going to happen when the rains come, the simple fact is WE ARE 8 FT. BELOW SEA LEVEL AND THE POWERS TO BE NEVER MAINTAINED THE KOKERS AND SLUICES. GET HELP, GO TO HOLLAND AND LOOK AT WHAT THEY DID. THEY ARE THE EXPERTS.

  • Gigi  On 07/18/2015 at 11:11 am

    Or Guyanese can build house boats and live in them. Economical, practical and a reliable mode of transportation. Many people in Asia and Nigeria live this way. And quite a few residents in Key West live this way too. One of our retirement dreams is to own a bed and breakfast in or around the Keys. Maybe we should revamp this dream to accommodate the changing environment and own a houseboat instead. Perhaps one day we will sail all the way to the homeland Essequibo, Venezuela.

  • Ron. Persaud  On 07/18/2015 at 11:41 am

    It has always puzzled me that Guyanese, in the land of many waters and all that sort of thing, never took to the recreational aspects of this resource. In my time there was the Demerara Rowing Club and the annual regatta at Bartica. There was Bill Burns and a small group of spear-gun enthusiasts who would go up the Essequibo river to ‘hunt arapaima’. “EddieHam Plastic Works” even built the first fiberglass cabin cruiser in the ‘colony’.
    I surmise that boating has been associated too much with work – fishing and farming.

  • detow  On 07/18/2015 at 2:43 pm

    Campton I agree with most of what you have said and totally agree that Guyana should be asking for help from the Dutch. They are the ones who developed drainage in Guyana to address the then problems and I believe can again help in solving the present ones. However, to move the capital from its present location to the hinterland, while not a bad idea, may result in partial, if not full, abandonment of the residential/agricultural coastline and may, over time, result in the ocean reclaiming vast areas of northern Guyana. Since the Brazilian rationale for developing a new capital city, Brazilia, is not the same as that of Guyana, I do not believe that they can be of much help in this case.

    Just as a reminder, the Brazilians developed Brazilia mainly because of the overpopulated condition of Rio de Janeiro and not because of flooding.

    I am still hopeful that Guyana can defend against the Atlantic Ocean and climate change with proper planning and major assistance from the developed world.

    Gigi, a word of advice, just get lost.

    Ron, I did not get the gist of your post since the topic was flooding in Guyana and possible solutions to prevent occurrences and not developing recreational abilities.

  • compton de castro  On 07/18/2015 at 4:21 pm

    Yes the Dutch will be useful in respect of GT flooding etc
    But the Brazilians made mistakes in “creating” Brazilia….Guyana can learn from their mistakes in creating the infrastructure for new city.

  • Ron. Persaud  On 07/18/2015 at 7:44 pm

    I was following on the houseboat idea floated in a previous entry.
    For the record, I once proposed that the EDWC dam be developed into a roadway which would reduce, or even eliminate, the number of breaches; and if raised higher, would hold back more water in times of heavy rainfall (May/June).
    Drainage is dependent upon topography and precipitation. Ten inches of rain in one day over the Kanuku mountain range would be no problem on the slopes; but could wreak havoc on the flat savannahs. I can imagine the hardships in Georgetown specifically; and the coastland generally.
    The koker watchmen will tell you what is needed. There is no need to go overseas for answers.
    Finally, one cannot cater for the “hundred year flood”; that once in a generation event when the alignment of the sun, moon and earth will cause spring tides. Record rainfall, inept governance and all of Murphy’s laws will come together to render useless our most elaborate precautions.

  • Ron. Persaud  On 07/19/2015 at 2:12 am

    Mr. Jock Mennie (one Mennie too many), Admin Manager of Albion / Port Mourant Estate, took the information from the ‘Tide Tables’ (a Govt. publication) and extrapolated the tide level of the Atlantic at hourly intervals. We could now use this information to ensure that the kokers were opened on time to maximize their drainage capability (every inch counts). We could better monitor the opening and closing of the kokers very closely. This often entailed a walk into the dark and rainy night. We would arrive on site to find the water level on either side of the koker door within inches of each other – and the watchman was nowhere on site or in sight.
    Lo and behold, he would turn up, barely acknowledge our presence, proceed to “wind up the door” and as it cleared the water surface, the flow would be out to the Atlantic. Mission accomplished! Excellent time management! … by a humble hourly paid employee! A few of these watchmen had great style. They would wind up the door just short of the water surface, light up a cigarette, “bun a little gyaff”, toss the cigarette butt and give the winch handle the few more turns and there was the flow – out to the Atlantic.
    My point is that those Koker Watchmen had worked out a solution that an Engineer, using Applied Mathematics, had taken about an hour or two of thought and effort.
    To this day, I retain a great deal of admiration for those unsung stalwarts of the drainage system.
    Any comment by me on this subject would be incomplete with an acknowledgement of the effort and leadership of Mr. Jimmy Singh who gave great credence to the statement, “Knowledge defies mathematics; the more it is divided, the more it is multiplied”.

  • Ron. Persaud  On 07/19/2015 at 2:20 am

    Correction “Any comment by me on this subject would be incomplete WITHOUT an acknowledgement”.

  • wentworthcarrega  On 07/19/2015 at 4:25 am

    Flooding is nothing new to Guyana and it is like apple pie to America. As a youngster is was a common occurrence, some fifty years ago, while I resided in Georgetown. Nothing has changed but the representatives of the people wrapped up in dogma and lacking in basic common sense. A tsunami is imminent, and the solution, continues to be talked about, and without a smidgen of long term planning. Seek the intervention of known experts in the Netherlands and the United States, not the Chinese- we all know of their record of infrastructure failures at home and abroad.

    Finances are needed to accomplish such a mission. Therefore, planners in this new government must move in another direction, and they appear to be heading there by moving from an economy planned on current prices of export products, to one driven by basic principles of the free market competition.

    Ideology alone does not solve economic problems.

  • compton de castro  On 07/19/2015 at 4:54 am

    Political decisions and enforceable or vigorously enforced laws do.
    In common language “self discipline” “respect for law and order”

    As a child growing up in GT enjoyed our “lunatic” politician demonstrations
    outside parliament . LAW AND ORDER
    his message was clear but entertaining.


    Que Sera Sera
    Hate repeating myself
    Build the infrastructure for a new city nearer airport on higher ground.
    Invite neighbours to assist in planning/construction even financing.
    Roraima (pop 650.000) can only expand northward via LETHEM
    with access to carribean sea American markets are…..look south and north
    for development ….certainly notnot ” eastward”


  • kiskadee70  On 07/19/2015 at 4:28 pm

    I talked about moving the important administrative offices, banks, hospitals,etc many times before but as usual, no one heeds. A tsunami (which is lurking on the horizon) will surely bring them to their senses much too late because they will all be non-existent then. Those who are left behind would have learnt a hard lesson. On their shoulders a new city will rise.

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