Mar 19, 2011 Editorial
When the rains came Guyana was believed to have been in a position to counter the effects of the floods. It was believed that the nation had learnt a serious lesson from the floods of 2005. The rains back then were heavy and the flood waters were no less compromising.
When it was over the government took measures to clear waterways and vowed that it would never again preside over a flood of that magnitude. It spent millions of dollars compensating those who were affected by the floods and millions of dollars more to clear drains, canals and outfall channels. It also spent more money to protect the East Demerara Water Conservancy. This was necessary because the walls had developed serious flaws.
There have been rains since then but until now, crops were not threatened by excess water. There were dry spells that actually threatened rice and other crops but certainly not water since 2005. This may have been because drains were cleaned and pumps installed at key installations along the coast.
The authorities then were also at pains to warn people to desist from blocking waterways since this practice contributed in no small measure. Over the last two years government spent more than $1 billion cleaning drains, canals and outfall channels. However, it looks like some of the expenditures might have been in vain because this time around. There were floods, albeit not as severe as in 2005.
Rice farmers say that they stand to lose about twenty per cent of their crop. They say that some fields were ready to be reaped when the rains came. One of the men said that he attempted to put a combine into the field but he could do nothing because of the sodden conditions.
Another spoke of his paddy re-germinating while yet another spoke of his paddy collapsing in the fields and rotting. All this happened even as the world is demanding more and more grain. The Food and Agricultural Organisation has reported a shortage in grain. The recent harsh winter in the United States did not help.
From Guyana’s point of view the demand for grain would have stood the nation in great stead. There was a lot of foreign exchange to be earned. Rice farmers who were complaining about low paddy prices had a chance to earn top dollars largely because of the high export prices. If the millers wanted to cash in they would have had to pay for the paddy.
The big question that arose during the flooding was whether enough had been done to prevent flooding. It seemed as if the government did everything right except install correct pumps to protect the rice fields. Farmers along the coast complained about the pumps being too small to drain the fields in the face of the rains.
Perhaps the country never had enough pumps for the benefit of the farmers. Indeed large pumps were installed to clear excess water from the waterways and reduce the extent of flooding in homesteads. The government was at pains to ensure that money was spent to widen and deepen canals that would serve as reservoirs. However, after the rains this time around it would seem that the canals silted up rather quickly because many communities were flooded. The water simply could not run off the land fast enough.
One must wonder whether there is not need for an extensive survey of the waterways and the culverts; the need to determine whether there should not be a greater interlinking of the coastal waterways. There is to be the Hope Canal that would ease the pressure on the East Demerara Water Conservancy. Whether other coastal waterways would be linked to this canal is not known.
Sometimes questions arise about the knee jerk reaction to flooding as though there is no proper planning to cater for excess water on the land. In the weeks ahead and with the likely threat from global warming there could be even more floods.
There was a time when the various local authorities had rangers who checked the canals and culverts. The cost was so much less as was the extent of flooding. Today the expenditure to mitigate flooding runs into millions and even billions of dollars but the extent of flooding seems greater.
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