Petro-dollars can fuel Guyana’s escape from coming global warming catastrophe – By Mohamed Hamaludin

Petro-dollars can fuel Guyana’s escape from coming global warming catastrophe

– By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

  • The title of Thomas Wolfe’s posthumous 1940 novel says, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
  • But you can try.
  • I did.
  •  Wolfe was right.

I visited my native Guyana recently for my dearest friend’s funeral. The trip took me to the capital Georgetown, where I had worked for about a decade and a half as a journalist, then to my friend’s house several miles away and to Essequibo County, where I was born and spent much of my life, eight years as a schoolteacher.

This was my second visit back since immigrating to the United States in 1984, the first in about  20 years later. It was an eye-opener.     

I expected to see change but not much. This is, after all, a country known, until recently, solely for the Jonestown tragedy and images of mud and naked children playing in it conjured up by fly-by-night journalists. I expected little change in the people’s routines as they lived from day to day as best they could, having long surrendered expectations that the two legacy political parties would get rid of corruption and mismanagement and improve their living standards.

That they are doing, in their own ways. Along the two routes I traveled by taxi, I saw new houses, some four or five stories high. Many have businesses downstairs selling a bewildering array of goods to rival the Guyanese enterprises in Richmond Hill, the “Little Guyana” of Queens, New York. Unending streams of cars, taxis and minibuses zip past one another along two-lane streets that run just yards from the front doors of the buildings.

Life in the capital Georgetown is bustling; in one location, it is positively frenetic: the venerable Stabroek Market. A multitude of vendors are gathered under one roof; outside, several more compete for attention as taxis and minibuses jostle for space.

The traffic chaos harkens back to the 1970s when the government scrapped the only railway line in favor of Indian buses. When those buses broke down, there was little hard currency to buy parts. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo struck around then and the cost of fuel skyrocketed. The upshot, it seems, is that the government gave up on the buses also and, with it, public road transportation.

Still, Guyanese have come up with ways to cope and those who feared that attorney Forbes Burnham and dentist Cheddi Jagan, who led the struggle for independence from Britain, would entrench socialism or communism need not have worried. The small businesses that seem to be the driving force for community economics are a sure example of capitalism in action.

In Essequibo, the largest of three regions, which Venezuela claims, change is also evident.  I could not recognize the village where I grew up from infancy. There, too, in some places, taxis and cars race down narrow roads, though not as furiously as in the capital. Wooden houses are giving way to concrete structures, a few painted in as equally gaudy colors as their counterparts elsewhere. Horses are replacing donkeys to pull carts that now have rubber wheels.

There are still the occasional roadside stalls selling fresh green vegetables. This day, a small goat was taking advantage of the absence of customers to nibble at some greens. And village names still reflect the history of foreign occupation. My former village, Middlesex, an English name, is next to Huist’Dieren, which is Dutch. Affiance reflects France’s former presence. No one speaks Dutch or French.

But profound change is coming.

The politicians are currently locked in a power struggle as another, existential, crisis awaits: global warming. Much of the heavily populated areas is between 19 and 39 inches below sea level and climate change will worsen the flooding that is a regular feature of the coastal district. That is where the colonial occupiers established their sugar cane plantations to take advantage of the land’s fertility and built walls to keep the sea at bay. But no amount of flood mitigation will prevent the eventual inundation of those places. It is only a matter of time before they become uninhabitable.

However, there is an alternative. Dutch civil engineer Adrianus Vlugman, senior advisor in Guyana for the Pan American Health Organization, has suggested moving the capital inland, Johann Earle reported for Reuters. The proposal did not take hold, probably because of a lack of funds. However, by next year, hundreds of millions of petro-dollars will start flowing from massive newly discovered oil reserves off the Essequibo coast. The official position is to invest in stronger sea defenses but the Climate Hot Map on Global Warning Effects Around the World says the coastline is sinking and between 1951 and 1979 the sea level rose at six times the global average.

Moving the capital will also allow for constructing new buildings to replace the ones in decline in Georgetown. That, and persuading the people to move, will be a massive undertaking, since about 80 percent of the population of 750,000 live in the areas threatened with catastrophic flooding. But the alternatives are few to being swamped by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and increasingly swollen rivers in a country whose name means “land of many waters.”

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who  worked for several years at The Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a commentary every week or two for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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Comments

  • Pierre  On 07/25/2019 at 1:36 pm

    Please note,it is not Georgetown alone that is under threat , but our entire coastline ,from the Corentyne River in the east, to the western end of Guyana ,including New Amsterdam , Georgetown, and other large townships,(for at least 3 to 5 miles inland), more than 550 thousand people All our fertile agricultural land, factories and infra structure,and,and our fresh water catchments. No we will have to build up our sea and also limited riverain defenses, to a height that will protect us for another 100 year,s, exactly as the Dutch have done, and continue to do in Holland. Much of the financing can be obtained, from funds being granted to low lying countries,that will be threatened by rising ocean heights, caused by global warming,and our petro dollar bonanza. However the planning(by experienced Dutch engineers),needs to start NOW, and implementation of rebuilding the most vulnerable parts of our sea and riverain defenses,must begin by 2021, and continue over the next two decades,but completion must be no later than 2050, when the full, disastrous, effects,effects, of Global Warming, and ocean height increases, will be in full swing.

  • wally n  On 07/25/2019 at 4:27 pm

    Agree that the drainage systems, and the walls where ever should be improved. People can do more in keeping their surroundings and drainage clear and clean.
    I suspect in most developed countries it is a money grab, [CANADA FOR SURE] the “final day” is usually long after the scientists and politicians are dead and gone, they corrected their predictions after gore [crook] missed by a mile.
    If you have any doubt, maybe ask a Dinosaur? Me not convinced.
    Opposite view ?? https://youtu.be/-j0ykCVAQVM

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