Residents of the Abary, Mahaicony and Mahaica creeks were told yesterday that a canal would be dug to drain the excessive rainfall water from the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) into the Atlantic Ocean at a cost of $3B.
During a visit to the creeks yesterday, President Bharrat Jagdeo said that the outlet which would help to reduce the flooding in the area should be completed by mid next year. He said a plot of land has been identified on the East Coast Demerara for the project.
He told the residents that once the canal was completed water would no longer be drained through the creeks. He assured the residents that the canal would be given priority even if it meant shifting the money from roads and other projects as it would offer a long-term solution to their flooding problem. According to Jagdeo, the digging of the canal would entail the cutting of the road and railway embankment and constructing bridges. He said it would not just be a small canal but “a major outlet.”
Almost two weeks ago, the level of water in the creeks began to rise after intense rainfall and the releasing of water from the EDWC through the Maduni sluice. Jagdeo told the residents that the water was not released to “punish” them but it had to be done because of the critical state of the dam. He said if government had not taken that decision there would have been a major “catastrophe.”
Farmers in the area said they lost all their crops and have been running out of dry land for their livestock which have started to dwindle. They said that despite efforts to “build up” their land and raise their pens they could not save anything in the “big water,” causing their only means of livelihood to be taken away.
Yesterday while waiting in the creek for the President to arrive, this reporter observed an elderly couple, Mansaram Deochand and his wife, transporting the remainder of their sheep in a boat to higher ground. They said 10 sheep and eight cows had already died for them.
The residents had issued a call for the President to visit the creeks to see the extent of their situation. They also said they needed to be compensated for their loss of crops and livestock and that they also needed a supply of food items.
The President repeated the announcement that Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud– also part of the visiting team–made at the Mahaicony Creek last week that the farmers would be assisted with planting materials and fertilizer to start their crop again at the end of the rainy season.
Jagdeo also told the farmers that government would assist with some fuel while the Civil Defence Committee would be distributing food hampers to a few poor households. He said he did not want to make flood relief a “dependency issue because people with a little water accumulation would expect relief.”
He mentioned too that while he did not want to sound “pessimistic,” the rainfall would continue. According to him, the completion of the second phase of the MMA scheme would also bring relief but that project would cost US$60 million.
‘we can’t stop the rain’
At the Abary Creek, where the President made his first stop, one resident, Mahase Prahalad said that they have suffered flooding since 2005 and that while “we can’t stop the rain” the EDWC should be kept at a low level one month before it starts.
The President responded that the level was at 52 GD [Georgetown Datum] and after the rainfall continued it rose to 59 GD. He said water must have flowed from the backlands even before rain started in the creeks and on the coast. He added that dredging of the Abary River would cost US$5M and that they were still “waiting on the Venezuelans”.
Prahalad also mentioned that during the flood last year he “fight” for the mouth of the Abary River to be cleared and that within a few days the water started to flow. He said government provided the fuel and labour cost and a farmer provided his “short-boom excavator.” He made a request for the work to be continued. He also said when the trees are chopped they are left in the creek, causing it to be silted up more.
Jagdeo then decided that the method of clearing the mouth would be tried again and said that a “long-boom” excavator would be provided for the job.
Farmers also complained that the access dam at Onverwagt was in a deplorable condition and that during the rainy weather it was difficult to transport their paddy. The President responded that he learnt that some farmers were using the dam indiscriminately with heavy-duty vehicles. He then asked Chairman of the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary/Agricultural-Development-Authority (MMA/ADA), Ronald Gajraj, to introduce a “pass system” and if persons traversed the dam more than four times with such vehicles they would have to pay.
According to Jagdeo, persons are looking to government to fix the road but there was no money for that.
This prompted farmers to blurt out that “since the road build it never maintained,” except for sand that is thrown in the potholes and gets washed out during the rain.
The President agreed to the farmers’ suggestion that if they lost their crops MMA should use consideration and waive the charges. He also asked farmers to desist from “building small kokers in big trenches” which “becomes a choking point and blocks everyone.”
Upon requests, the head of state promised the residents and farmers that an excavator would be provided to empolder their land, mentioning that 350 residents of Mahaica, Mahaicony and the Pomeroon had already benefited. A group of housewives complained about the condition of the dam that their children have to traverse to attend school and requested that a boat be provided to transport them to school. The President promised to honour their request and instructed Regional Chairman of Region Five, Harrinarine Baldeo, to include it in this year’s budget.
Also accompanying the President on his trip were general managers of the Rice Producers Association, Dharamkumar Seeraj; the Guyana Rice Development Board, Jagnarine Singh, and the MMA Aubrey Charles; veterinary officers from the Ministry of Agriculture and other officials.