IS GUYANA NOW IN THE HURRICANE ZONE?

November 13, 2010 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom 

Old people have a saying, “What miss you is not going to pass you.” This is another way of saying that we cannot consistently have narrow escapes. What we may have avoided will eventually catch up with us, unless precautions are taken.
This is especially true of the weather. The rainy season, for example, has always led to accumulation on the land. But after a few days the water level would drop and life would be restored to normalcy.
Today, the rainy season is looked upon with dread because there is now a higher risk because of un- seasonal weather patterns and compromised drainage. A slight downpour could wipe out an entire rice crop. This is the sort of uncertainty that stalks the land. There is always that fear that what missed us today may strike tomorrow.
A few weeks ago, the tropical storm, Tomas, roared through the Caribbean. It was said to be headed in a direction that would have drenched our country with heavy winds accompanied by high winds. There was some fear as a result and alerts were being aired. The country prepared itself for a possible emergency.
Years ago something like this would never have happened. Guyana was said to be immune to hurricanes and tropical storms. We were said to be out of the range of these disasters.
Well Tomas may be signaling a change in fortune. Tomas was headed in our direction but veered off course and inflicted tremendous damage on Saint Lucia and an already devastated Haiti. Judging from the loss of lives in St Lucia and the destruction to roads and buildings in that country and in Barbados, Guyana must count itself fortunate because had the storm roared through Guyana, it would have flattened us.
Countries in the Eastern Caribbean have always been at risk to hurricanes and tropical storms. And they have tried to prepare for these occasions by ensuring that their buildings and infrastructure are done to certain standards to minimize hurricane and storm damage.
It does not always work. A few years ago, a hurricane flattened Grenada. The country had to be completely rebuilt. Now imagine tropical storms could cause such damage in countries that are prepared for such eventualities, what would have been the consequences had the tropical storm passed through Guyana.
We were lucky. But what about the next time? Are we going to be that lucky? And does the fact that we came so close to being hit by the tail end of the tropical storm signal that climate change is making us now vulnerable to these storms in the Caribbean Sea?
We are told that climate change will lead to rising sea levels. And Guyana is below sea level, at the least the coastal plain is. So we are already at serious risk as evidenced by the high tides, which have caused overtopping of sea and river defences this year.
So what is going to happen to us as climate change worsens? And why do people still want to live on the coast?
Understandably, many persons have no choice. They have built their homes along the coastline, some near to the river and sea banks, and they simply cannot pack that up and move on. There are limited choices for most of these persons. They simply have to stay and hope that the seawall does not one day burst open or that some storm does not come raging over Guyana.
It is a chance that they have to take because there is nothing else that can be done.
But what then about those who can do better and who instead of moving away to higher ground are not just building along the coast but are going next to the sea reserves to put up mansions? How does one explain this?
Do we really understand the implications of climate change? If we did then there would not have been the haste to build close to the sea reserves for anytime there is gigantic tide and anytime a tropical storm decides to break with tradition and head in our direction, those multimillion-dollar properties that are being constructed near to the seawall and river defences are going to face the burnt of the gale forces.
It is worrying that when we should be moving away from the sea and river defences, we are doing the very opposite and building close and closer to these structures.

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