DRAINAGE: Flooding in Guyana- Editorial by Stabroek News

One would have thought that after the 2005 flood crisis our politicians might have learned a few basic lessons, but it seems that they are endowed with a unique capacity to forget the things they should remember. Following any large-scale flood all the right noises are made about what had not been done, what should have been done and what will now be done to prevent it from happening again.

And then everything is conveniently forgotten until it does happen again. So there should be no surprise that we are currently looking at inundations affecting all the regions, with the loss of livestock, property and crops which this inevitably involves.         

Guyana is a hydraulic society; on the one hand it has to keep the sea from inundating its low-lying coastland and on the other during periods of heavy rainfall it has to be able to drain off the land efficiently. Those who went before us constructed our sea defences to keep the waters from the ocean in their place, and where the land is concerned, created an intricate system of canals which utilising gravity drainage emptied into the sea at low tide via kokers.

Even then, our more practical predecessors knew that it was impossible to keep the land absolutely dry at all times, particularly on those occasions when the intensity and duration of the rainfall exceeded the capacity of gravity drainage to cope. Periodically, of course, the sea too makes unwelcome visitations, but that is a problem of a different order. Where the land is concerned, previous generations allowed some areas to remain uncultivated in order to act as a kind of reservoir for the water in periods of unusual rain; in that way, the cultivated and settled areas were afforded some protection from flooding.

With respect to Black Bush Polder, a letter writer in this newspaper recently asked whether the cultivation of Kokerite Savannah had played any role in the flooding there. Originally intended to remain uncultivated to act as a receptacle for excess water, the writer said that permission had been given to “selected farmers” to grow cash crops, whereas previously it had only been used for cattle farming. They cut the dam, it was alleged, and installed tubes so they could drain the land, as a consequence of which “huge amounts of water got dumped … into the drainage system” which couldn’t handle it.

It might be noted that in 2013 Region Six Chairman David Armogan was reported as saying that legal action would be taken against eight farmers in the Kokerite Savannah who had ignored notices asking them to desist from pumping water into the Black Bush Polder irrigation system. He went on to be quoted as saying, “As soon as we get water out of the system, water is pumped back from the Kokerite Savannah into the system.”  The change in utilisation of the land was said to be engaging the attention of the Minister of Agriculture.

Exactly what came out of Mr Armogan’s efforts is not clear, but now, eight years’ later, the same allegation is being made again. It is not just changes in land use, however, which are at issue; as was pointed out by engineers following the 2005 flood, new housing projects had been sited on natural flood terrain, without the accompanying drainage to give them, or the surrounding areas, sufficient protection from being deluged in years of heavy, prolonged rainfall. Since the water had nowhere else to go, it cascaded down the roads and then was siphoned off into the yards which were of lower elevation.

There are other issues too which are an echo of what transpired in 2005. Yesterday, Director General of the Civil Defence Commission, Lieutenant Colonel Kester Craig told the media in respect of Regions Two, Three and Seven that the lands were unable to drain efficiently because the affected areas were located in basins which were already water-logged. But the situation had been exacerbated by poor drainage caused by the lack of maintenance together with damaged and inefficient infrastructure, he said. As expected, the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority, among others, had been duly dispatched to undertake remedial work. It seems gratuitous to observe that effecting remedial work to a damaged and/or imperfect system does not deal with the fundamental problem.

It might seem that we need a comprehensive review of our current coastal drainage structures, taking as a starting point the various reports which followed the 2005 Great Flood, which admittedly did not affect the entire country as is currently the case. The arrangements for certain interior locations would have different principles, such as the Rupununi savannahs, which have a long history of flooding. In addition there is Georgetown, which is a special case and where the government has confused politics with drainage. But that is another story. The first thing, however, is to ensure there is adequate infrastructure in the country at large. Some critical places will need the assistance of mechanical pumps, which already exist in some places, although as several engineers have explained, they do not drain as much water as the gravity process.

The second thing is the matter of maintenance, where we have had a poor record over many decades. The systems for maintenance must be fit for purpose, and there must be continuous monitoring. We should not be in a situation where waterways and drainage canals have become silted up and no one bothers to ensure a free flow of water. The responsibilities of the various agencies whether local or national in relation to the trenches, etc, must be understood, and those found derelict must be held accountable.

The third thing which was emphasised very strongly in 2005 was the question of the dumping of garbage in the canals and trenches. It is fashionable to blame citizens for this, but the truth of the matter is there is no regular or efficient garbage collection in many areas. It is time the government retained someone to look at the problem of refuse collection and disposal across the whole country and see what the options are. Garbage filled waterways are a major impediment to effective drainage, but residents will take the easy way out if they think there are no alternatives.

The fourth thing is that there must be accountability irrespective of political considerations; politics is an impediment to effective drainage. By extension where appropriate, the law must be enforced, whether that involves farmers illegally pumping water into an irrigation system, or some other transgression in relation to contracts for maintenance, for example.

The fifth thing is that the government needs to commission a report on what this country can expect in terms of climate change, not forgetting, of course, rising sea levels. It might talk glibly about a new city, but that will not help the thousands of farmers who make their living along our coastland in particular, but also in Indigenous areas. They are already putting the West Bank at risk with the destruction of mangroves, so is it that they are prepared to write off agriculture? Or is it that they just haven’t thought about the consequences of more frequent and heavier rainfall patterns? What exactly is in their mind?

With generations of experience to draw from, the Guyanese population is remarkably well informed about drainage; it is up to them to keep an eye on officialdom where this is concerned, and raise their voices when they see things going wrong or not being done. In the end, it is their livelihoods which are at stake.

Current flooding among worst disasters in country’s history
– President Ali

Some houses that are affected by flooding in Region Seven (Office of the President photo)

By Stabroek News June 6, 2021

President Irfaan Ali on Saturday said that the flooding currently occurring across Guyana is one of the worst disasters the country has ever faced and projected that it will take some time for the country recover once the situation has abated.

Ali made this statement at the opening ceremony of the Saipem Guyana Offshore Construction Facility on Water Street.

Having just returned from an outreach in Region Seven, the President stressed that it is clear that the countrywide flooding is one of the worst disasters that Guyana has faced in history.

Paddling past a flooded Region 7 home (CDC photo)

Before and after images showing the Jeep Landing and Moses Forde shop in Kwakwani, Berbice River on March 3 and June 5 (Photo Credit Lance DaSilva)
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Comments

  • Dennis Albert  On 06/06/2021 at 11:32 am

    Is oil drilling exacerbating the flooding?

    • brandli62  On 06/06/2021 at 2:20 pm

      Why should it? The oil drilling activity is 120-150 miles offshore.

    • Brother Man  On 06/06/2021 at 7:52 pm

      Say what?

      This the most absurd question any ‘adult’ can ever ask. How on earth can drilling in the deep Atlantic 200 miles offshore cause flooding?

      Drilling is more likely to cause minor earth tremors, not torrential rain. You must not have been schooled in elementary science.

      I’d expect such a question to come from the mouth of a child, not from a grown man. The entire world is experiencing abnormal weather phenomena these days, attributable to global warming.

      Again, the reason for floods can be reasonably linked to climate change, never, never deep-sea drilling.

      Brother Man

      • brandli62  On 06/07/2021 at 5:42 am

        Brother Man, your arguments in response to Dennis’ question are all on spot, rational and I share your views. There is however no need to insult Dennis for asking the question. We should remain civil with each other. Have good start into the new week! 🙂

  • brandli62  On 06/06/2021 at 2:17 pm

    “The third thing which was emphasised very strongly in 2005 was the question of the dumping of garbage in the canals and trenches. It is fashionable to blame citizens for this, but the truth of the matter is there is no regular or efficient garbage collection in many areas. It is time the government retained someone to look at the problem of refuse collection and disposal across the whole country and see what the options are. Garbage filled waterways are a major impediment to effective drainage, but residents will take the easy way out if they think there are no alternatives.”

    One more reason to the urgent need for a modern garbage management system that relies on a state-of-the-art incinerator and a ban for land fills.

  • wally n  On 06/06/2021 at 7:47 pm

    I could be wrong but I think geoffburrowes brother did a lot of work on this in Toronto.I remember having a discussion with him about the system in Kiel, they have/had an efficient system going there.Could be interesting to hear his views.

  • Dennis Albert  On 06/06/2021 at 11:11 pm

    Brother Man,
    Glenn Lall believes that Exxon is responsible for the problems of climate change, which includes high tides, potential oil pollution and flaring.

    • Brother Man  On 06/07/2021 at 12:16 am

      Who really cares what a small fish has to say? To assert that Exxon is responsible for climate change is not an accurate statement. They are partly responsible.

      There are several factors responsible for the buildup of damaging CO2 gases in the high atmosphere including; coal-burning, fossil fuel used by motor vehicles, deforestation, industrial emissions, farming, garbage, etc.

      To say that Exxon is solely responsible is laughable. Unless humans drastically change their behaviour, weather patterns all around the world will become more frequent and more destructive.

      The planet is ailing very badly mainly because of human activity and the time to take urgent action to prevent further catastrophic climate damage is immediate.

      Brother Man

      • brandli62  On 06/07/2021 at 5:48 am

        Correct, Brother Man! Glenn Lall sees things to one sided and unilateral. He is currently on a mission. In my opinion, he should focus and making sure the the oil revenues are managed well and in a transparent manner (keyword: Natural Resources Fund). Regarding CO2 emissions, we are all responsible as we buy Exxon’s (or other oil companies) products to drive our cars, heat our homes and generate electricity. If we start buying electric cars, put solar panels on the roof our our homes and use air-water heat pumps to heat our home in winter, we can make our own person contributions to cut CO2 emissions. The technology is there and works reliable. No more excuses permitted!

  • guyaneseonline  On 06/08/2021 at 12:37 am

    MAYOR URGES PRESIDENT ALI TO STOP POINTING FINGERS OVER FLOODING IN THE CITY

    HGPTV News – Stop the blame game. It will not solve the issue” were the utterances of City Mayor-Ubraj Narine to the Head of State on the hot topic issue of flooding in the city . Amel Griffith reports.

    • Bernard  On 06/08/2021 at 1:29 am

      Square peg in a round hole:

      Instead of pointing fingers, Ali should open his eyes to see the glaring deficiencies in the sluice network across the country and upgrade it immediately.

      Be a leader and ditch the blame game. Surely, Guyana can do better than having a square peg in a round hole.

  • JoE  On 06/08/2021 at 2:44 pm

    And then there’s the question of the concrete surfaces everywhere which come with development…include here the covering over Merriman’s Mall etc which helped to drain the water off the road in earlier times.

  • wally n  On 06/08/2021 at 3:51 pm

    Exactly, overlooking the obvious.
    Mentioned before..Toronto covered with high rise buildings. the flooding of the Suburbs Scarborough etc.. every time there is a heavy rainfall
    The Government should look into, boring more drains, machinery is available and exceptional, with a possibility of exhausting into reservoirs, if the water cannot be used then pumped into the river.

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