December 21, 2008

WATERLOGGED CHRISTMAS -2008 in Guyana

Posted in Buxton, Economics, Environment, Guyana, Lusignan tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:27 pm by randallbutisingh

Christmas looks likely to be a waterlogged one for many East Coast Demerara residents, and at Victoria, yesterday recent heavy rainfall had caused the water level to rise to well above two feet once more.

A pig struggles to keep its nose above water in this yard at Buxton, East Coast Demerara.  (Photo by Jules Gibson)

Struggling: A pig struggles to keep its nose above water in this yard at Buxton, East Coast Demerara. (Photo by Jules Gibson)

With just days to spare before the biggest holiday of the year Victorians have inches of water in their homes. Lower flat kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms are swamped leaving some villagers without a place to do their holiday entertaining.

When Stabroek News visited the area shortly after 3 pm yesterday residents were going about their daily routines as usual. Some yards had pockets of water. However, the further into Victoria we went the higher the water level became. Yards, especially those located in the backlands, have more than two feet of water. Residents told this newspaper that the flood “is nothing new”.

Swamped! This flat house at Bachelor’s Adventure, East Coast Demerara was completely surrounded by water yesterday, which undoubtedly would have gone inside as well. (Photo by Jules Gibson)

Swamped! This flat house at Bachelor’s Adventure, East Coast Demerara was completely surrounded by water yesterday, which undoubtedly would have gone inside as well. (Photo by Jules Gibson)

“Every year around this time,” Monica Amos said, “we would get flooded. As soon as the rainy season start the water would start coming in… This has been happening every year since before the big flood in 2005.”

Amos’s yard has approximately six inches of water. The floodwater is also in the woman’s lower flat bedroom and kitchen.

“Look the water come and I had to move my stove upstairs to cook. My washing machine get water all and I don’t know if it working still,” Amos explained.

Doodnauth Persaud stands in his submerged garden at Lusignan, East Coast Demerara, yesterday, viewing the remains of what should have been the rewards of his labour. (Photo by Jules Gibson)

Doodnauth Persaud stands in his submerged garden at Lusignan, East Coast Demerara, yesterday, viewing the remains of what should have been the rewards of his labour. (Photo by Jules Gibson)

Other residents face similar situations. The family of Corporal Wesley Hopkinson, the soldier who died in a boat collision on the Cuyuni River, had more than two feet of water in their yard. When Stabroek News had visited the family almost two weeks ago there had been six inches of water.

According to residents, the recent heavy rainfall caused the water level to rise once again. Onica Murphy, a resident who lives just in front of the Hopkinsons, reported that the water had receded “a little” prior to the recent rains but now it is gradually getting higher and is beginning to smell.
Like many other locations along the coast a large amount of garbage could be seen floating in the stagnant water and residents were moving through it freely, seemingly unaware of the possible health risks.

Livestock could be seen roaming the roadway yesterday because it was the closest available ground without inches of water.

“At least we’ll have each other for Christmas… regardless of the water and the trouble it is causing us we will try our best to have a joyous Christmas after all it is the season of sharing and accepting,” one resident said.

Water levels have also risen in Buxton and other villages within that vicinity despite the efforts being made by the various drainage stations to pump the water off the land.

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COMMENT:

This news report highlights the serious problems Guyana has with its drainage and irrigation systems. Every year there are floods along the Atlantic coastline especially during the rainy seasons. Three years ago in December 2005- February 2006,  there was the “big flood”, which lasted for some 12 weeks in some areas, with the extreme loss of property, livestock and human life to disease.

The villages of Victoria, Bachelor’s Adventure and Buxton, mentioned in this article were some of the first villages established by the freed African slaves in the 1840’s. Lusignan, located next to Buxton was once a sugar estate, with its own factory but today it grows sugar canes for Enmore, one of the large regional factories.  All the estates and villages have had intricate networks of waterways that aid in getting fresh water from the water conservancies at the south of the coast lands, and draining used and excess water into the sea to the north. This process is especially necessary in the rainy season.

The colonial estate managers ensured that their drainage systems worked well as it ensured optimum sugar production.  The villages also had efficient drainage systems before 1960. However, there has been a systematic breakdown of many of the waterways and drainage systems over the last 50 years. First, there was a heavy dependence in the past on sluices or kokers in the past which discharged water into the sea at low tide. Now the drainage authorities seem to depend more on water pumps which are costly and do not have the capacity to discharge the volumes required.

Second, a lot of money and care was taken in the past to ensure that the drainage canals were dredged and cleared on  a yearly basis so that the water flowed freely towards the sea.  Today many canals are blocked and many of the kokers are broken or non-existent. For instance, in the 1950’s the Buxton-Friendship villages had six kokers. In 2001 there were none operational. Today, I think they have one now, so it is not a surprise that the Buxton/Lusignan areas are flooded.

It is estimated that some 80% of Guyana’s 780,000 people live along the coastlines. This is the most fertile land, built by millions of years of sediment from the Amazon and other rivers. The problem is that this land is in many cases at or below sea level. It has to be defended from the sea by building sea walls that protect it at high tides. It also has to deal with the water from the highlands in the south flowing downwards to the sea, as well as the water that collects on the land during heavy rains. The drainage systems that were designed by the Dutch who ruled Guyana from 1581-1781, were the basis of the systems used later by the British. They depended on free flowing canals and kokers which drained the lands at low tide. It is believed that the failure to upkeep and improve on these systems is the reason there are such serious flooding today.

Now, with global warming and sea levels rising as well as changing weather patterns, it seems that Guyana is in for heavier rains during the rainy seasons  every year. This means that there has to be a rethinking of the drainage issues they have as this situation seems to be getting worse every year. Some fear, that with potentially rising seas and poor drainage, that the coast lands may eventually become unlivable if this situation continues. The capital, Georgetown is there,  most of the people live there, and most of the agriculture and economic investment are in these areas so this is serious.

It is feared that with continued flooding and destruction of sea defences that in the coming years the Guyana as we know may be no longer. Like Mauritius, its people may have to look for higher ground to exist. In Guyana’s case the land is there but will there be the will or the economic capacity or capability to move inland.

– Cyril Bryan

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