A most disgraceful situation
Every city has some basic things because they are often the most populated places in a country. There are therefore hospitals, the leading schools and colleges, the other training institutions, the fire service, the police headquarters, and of course, the largest municipal markets and the best stores.
Georgetown, Guyana, is no different. It has all these things. It houses the headquarters of the various government offices and is the hub of the transportation sector. However, Georgetown is like no other city. It cannot rid itself of its garbage because the city council is perennially cash-strapped and it has no working fire hydrant.
About five decades ago there were fire hydrants that not only stood at various locations on the streets but they worked. In the event of fire it was not unusual to see the firefighters racing to these hydrants and attaching their hoses.
A major fire broke out in the city early Tuesday morning. The call came in to the Guyana Fire Service shortly after 5:00 am and the tenders went racing to the scene. When they arrived at the scene on Regent Street, a small store was on fire. The firemen went into action, but it was not long before the water in the tenders ran out. The crew had to rush for another water source.
The city was once known for its canals, but over the past few decades these became clogged with garbage and silt from the Demerara River. Fortunately the climate is such that they always have water and it was to this that the firefighters turned when the fire continued to rage.
But this need not have been the case and one must blame the Minister responsible for Water. Each year in the national budget we see allocations for the water sector. These allocations would be for things like alum to purify the city water, and for wells in new housing areas. Millions of dollars are always bandied about and during the debate the nation is regaled with these facts about how much money the government spends.
Spending money is one thing, but spending it where it is needed is another. For as long as one can remember there has been no expenditure for the delivery of water in the city. The Home Affairs Minister has been seeking and getting funding for more and more firefighting equipment, but that is not matched by the support expected from the Ministry responsible for the delivery of water.
Inside the Shelter Belt there are hundreds of hydrants procured at a time when there was talk to revamp the hydrants in the country. At the time the entity was the Georgetown Sewerage and Water Commissioners. The government later delinked that entity from City Hall and assumed full responsibility.
Those hydrants are still lying in the Shelter Belt compound, as useless as taking a snow cone to an Eskimo.
Surely, the Minister of Housing and Water, Irfaan Ali, must have been aware of the situation with the fire hydrants. In recent times there have been a number of fires in the city, and on every occasion the fire fighters could not rely on the pieces of iron that once served as fire hydrants.
He has made no effort to deal with the situation, choosing instead to develop housing schemes and still failing to install hydrants in these new housing schemes. Surely, any administrator would recognize the need for firefighting capabilities in the city, but Minister Ali seems not to be in that category.
When asked about hydrants his predecessor said that establishing the hydrants was the responsibility of the fire service. The fire service said that the Housing Ministry is responsible. The then President Bharrat Jagdeo did say that some focus would be placed on replacing the existing hydrants. He did nothing other than talk.
The result is that four buildings went up in flames and a man died of a heart attack as he watched what he had worked all his life to secure, go up in flames. Those flames also trapped four Chinese nationals in one of the buildings and they had to be rescued.
The people who lost their property cannot think of suing the authorities for their failure to have hydrants. But it is an abomination that a city in these modern times has no fire hydrants.