In Guyana the year 2005 will be remembered as the “Great Flood” due to the widespread flooding in Georgetown and the coastal plain, which resulted in hundreds of millions in damage. The flood affected the economy for several years later.
Flooding is not new in Guyana. It began even before modern recorded history. Archaeological evidence shows that Guyana’s coastal belt is below sea level, something the Dutch, French and British colonizers knew and had to contend with. While the Dutch proved more adept than most at sea defence, they, like every other colonial power, were at their wits’ end when the country was faced with heavy rainfall or high tide. The post-independent governments have faced the same problems.
Yet, it was the Dutch who moved the country’s original capital from Borsselen Island, which was 20 miles up the Demerara River, to its current location at the mouth of the Demerara River, and named it Stabroek. In 1812, it was renamed Georgetown. Hindsight proved that it was a mistake by the Dutch to move the capital, because Georgetown was below sea level. Today, there are reports that it is sinking.
Earliest reports indicate that widespread flooding took place in Georgetown in 1804 and again in 1855. Both resulted in considerable hardship for the residents. The 1855 disaster led to the building of the seawall from Kingston to Kitty. And although the seawall was later extended to Turkeyen, it did not make the coastline, or Georgetown, immune from flooding.
In every decade since the 1850s, Guyana has had floods and sea defence breaches whenever the tide is high or there is heavy rainfall. Today, flooding continues in Georgetown and the coastal plain, but 2005 will be forever etched in the memories of the people as the year of the “Great Flood.” In that year, incessant rainfall combined with high tides, and breaches in the sea defence and East Demerara Conservancy, led to extensive flooding.
Reports had indicated that many residents in Georgetown were forced to abandon their homes, and electricity in particular was frequently disrupted as trees fell across power lines, plunging some sections of the city in darkness. The situation was also disastrous in Essequibo and Berbice.
Since that flood, the governments have spent millions of dollars to upgrade the drainage system. Kokers/sluices and pumps were repaired and canals and drains were cleared and desilted. In spite of the most recent preparations, Georgetown and the coastal plain were once again flooded when the skies opened up on December 23, last. It was a painful reminder of the “Great Flood” of 2005 and of the need for a more rigorous upgrade and maintenance of the interlocking system of kokers, drains, dams and canals in the flooded areas. However, the system worked really well as the water receded expeditiously in the city, except for Albouystown.
But there is something else too. Many believe that the kind of flooding the country has experienced in recent years is related to issues connected to global warming. It is also known that the current drainage structure in Georgetown and the coastal plain cannot cope with the intensity and volume of rainfall.
The government owes it to the people to develop both short-term and long-term strategies to solve the problem. It should contract specialists in the field to increase the capacity of the current drainage structure in Georgetown and the coastal plain in order to absorb the volume of water from heavy rainfall. The specialists should also provide advice as to the viability of existence of Georgetown, which according to experts is sinking. The pertinent questions would be: What kind of drainage system is needed to ensure the survival of the people in the most fertile part of Guyana? And, more importantly, is the city really sinking?
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