Moving our capital to a higher location is the only solution

Dear Editor,

There are many individuals who challenge the authenticity of Global Warming (G.W.), and Climate Change (C.C). What is important, however, are communities and governments of independent countries that may not accept Global Warming (G.W.) but still do nothing to avoid what promises to be a catastrophe.

The community of Guyanese in the capital Georgetown on a coastal plain site which is well below sea level seem to be quite content remaining as they are, ignoring the warning, now three years old, that the ocean will rise several feet – 14 to 16 feet, completely destroying by inundation, the majority of life and living conditions. The fact that much of our coastland is approaching 6 feet below sea level means our farmland and most of our housing development will certainly be lost. Linden may become a seaport for keel-less craft.

This negative attitude of simply ignoring the threat and “staying put” raises frightful images of death and destruction.

“On the positive side all Governments involved in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) accept the practically irrefutable proof of Climate Change.” (S.N. editorial, Aug. 31, 2007).

While the theoretical conclusion on the rise of the ocean level has been accepted our thousands of citizens are still faced with the prospect of losing much of their private and public property.

The U.S., having temporarily settled the question of world leadership, has now brought G.W. and C.C. forward as a matter for urgent consideration.

In Stabroek News, June 15, 2007, a report stated that:

“Guyana has spent in excess of U.S. $110M since the 2005 Great Flood, but President Jagdeo said yesterday that it would require hundreds of millions of US dollars to keep the Atlantic Ocean at bay and the Conservancies from overtopping and flooding coastal communities”.

As against the proposition to move our capital and coastal communities to higher, safer levels which would entail a public and private expense of a big but justifiable controlled order, erecting a wall to keep ocean waters out, as has been suggested, immediately raises the problem of obtaining the design figures for an under-water foundation in soil of presently questionable bearing capacity. In addition to the probability of under-wall seepage, the prospect of living, working, hopefully sleeping peacefully and comfortably below and adjacent to such ‘Protection’ is likely to receive negative support.

Faced with two apparently equally “disastrous” solutions to the prospect of inundation of our coastland, we should examine these two alternative courses of action, their implications and cost to ensure our decision is the least harmful to our citizens and offers the best in health and economies for the future.

In considering the construction of a wall to keep the water at bay, it would mean providing a structure that would rest on a foundation or footings placed at about the existing beach water level. This makes the construction about 2’0″, its thickness tapering down about 20-24 feet to a thickness of about 5’0″. The length of this wall has yet to be determined. Preparation time, time for construction and cost of such a ‘device’ makes this alternative a non-starter.

To help monitor for the development of G.W. and C.C. one positive step has been taken which was the installation of Sensors at the mouths of our three main freshwater rivers but any increase in volume of flow or changes in levels have not been published. An Engineer’s report, however, indicated that about 30 years ago the ocean level off Trinidad had shown an increase of 6 inches over official, previously registered level difference.

This suggests an early beginning to G.W. with almost imperceptible rising of water level increasing as the heat melts the snow and ice cover.

The annoyance one felt a few years ago at seeing the brown termite tunnels rising up the ground floor walls and columns was now given true significance. Increasing upward pressure from the water table a few feet below the building site level was forcing the termites to vacate their underground nests and seek safety in buildings and trees above. Rising ocean water level was exerting underground, upward pressure on the water table from below.

The memory of that experience suddenly ‘clicked in’ on the letter response to rising ocean level where a gentleman said there was no need to move our capital as he had the means to build a wall to keep the sea out. The rising ocean waters would obviously exert enough pressure to cause extensive seepage under any wall and the foundation of the wall would be on porous material of site inadequate to take the load and pressure of wall and ocean water.

The size of such a ‘protective’ wall, its length, its foundation, thickness and height to prohibit over-topping will obviously make its cost prohibitive.

Moving our capital to a higher, safer location as was President Burnham’s instinctive suggestion and advocated by this author will not only prove to be more practical a solution, it will allow a better implementation of improved standards in office accommodation housing, planning, traffic and health.

In addition, by communal organizations of removals, where possible, individual house owners will bear a reduced cost of transportation. With only the organizing and effecting removal and/or rebuilding of Government offices and amenities, the cost to citizens will be more reasonable than having to deal with the prohibitive cost of building a so-called protective wall.

Our experience of the existing wall which was built to keep the Atlantic Ocean at bay and the Conservatories from over-topping and flooding coastal communities has not inspired us with the idea of wall-building as a solution.

On the other hand, our quest for a better standard of living has in-built limitations that force us to adopt a change in our approach method which, in effect, will produce community life conditions well in conformity with existing world standards that may yet be subject to change.

Before I close, I feel I should mention an aspect of our problem raised in a letter to the press just a few days ago.

Under the caption “Georgetown needs a Town Planner urgently,” (S.N. October 3, 2007) a Mr. Gomes makes an urgent appeal for the preservation of Georgetown and its “beautiful layout.”

Born in any location, successfully overcoming the problems and pain of early growth, one cannot ignore feelings of attachment to the familiar scenes of one’s youth. In this case the “beautiful layout” refers to scenes of a Georgetown planned and planted about two to three hundred years ago with help from Warrington and or Stenman for a city where transportation was serviced by horse-drawn vehicles.

It was a job well done. Georgetown became known as a Garden City, a good tourist attraction. Unfortunately, Global Warming is not concerned with human sensitivities or man’s attachment to aspects of Nature.

Yours faithfully,

Prof R Westmaas

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