These are troubled times. Environmentalists and scientists around the world have for at least the past decade been issuing warnings about climate change and the devastating effects it would have/has been having on the world. Global warming has melted ice in the north and the water has seen ocean levels rise. The unaccustomed warmth has also brought with it unprecedented natural disasters and governments and individuals have been called upon to each do their part to help mitigate the effects of what has now become inevitable.
Changes to save the environment have included the introduction of alternative energy, the manufacturing of ‘green’ vehicles and moves to save the world’s rainforests. However, the sweeping changes necessary have not been happening and even if they were, climate change would still march inexorably forward, if perhaps a bit more slowly.
Concomitant with this, there were increases in the prices of food along with shortages of staples and other commodities worldwide. The price of oil shot up to its highest ever and only came crashing down after the American stock market did so in the aftermath of a massive mortgage crisis in that country, sparking a downturn in the world’s economy. Perilous times indeed.
In the international arena, Guyana appears to have done its part. Then President Desmond Hoyte had in 1989 made an offer at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in Malaysia, to set aside a sizeable area (371,000 hectares) of pristine rainforest for conservation. The result was the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, which came into being in 1996. More recently, President Bharrat Jagdeo offered the country’s entire rainforest in the fight to slow global warming.
In addition, in response to the world food market crisis, local farmers have been urged to grow more food. A massive country-wide campaign to this effect kicked off several months ago with seeds and other incentives being offered to those who were willing to take up the challenge to plant new crops or extend their acreage. Farmers were assured by those in authority that export markets would have been accessed as the extent of the campaign foresaw the harvesting of more produce than would have been needed for local consumption.
Then came the end-of-year wet season and near apocalypse for many who would have bought into the grow-more-food hype. Some farming communities have been suffering from flooding for five years and more, as a result of poor drainage and poorer infrastructure. Stop-gap measures have been employed over the years to provide relief at the time of the flooding, while it seems like the rest of the time the authorities crossed their fingers or touched wood and hoped for the best.
Three years ago, Guyana experienced what would have been one of the worst, if not the worst floods in its history, given not just the magnitude of the area it covered, but the millions of dollars lost and the number of people displaced, while water remained in their houses and communities. There were also several deaths as a result of drowning and the water-borne disease leptospirosis. The year 2005 offered a sign, as it were, of the clear and present danger facing Guyanese − the majority of whom reside on the low coastal plain, which is below sea level − of what might happen in the future owing to changes in weather patterns.
Back then, media cameras recorded endless canals filled with plastics and other non-biodegradable material, highlighting what has been an ongoing problem with waste disposal for a number of years. They also provided visuals of broken and useless sluices that are so vital for drainage.
But even more telling was the daily evidence of years, perhaps even decades of silt and weeds in almost every drainage canal, trench and drain in the city and all along the coast, pointing to neglect and just plain, don’t give a damn.
What ought to have happened after the 2005 Great Flood did not. There are still endless canals that have not been dug and drains and trenches that haven’t been cleaned. There was flooding in 2006 and 2007, but not of the current magnitude. The pictures of people dwelling in floodwater that has been in their homes and communities for upwards of 21 days are heart-wrenching. No one who appreciates Christmas as the season of peace and goodwill could have truly celebrated knowing that just miles away their fellow human beings were in dire straits.
The stories and photos of the endless losses of livestock and crops, amounting to millions of dollars are agonizing. The grow more food campaign has been reduced to mere words as a result of poor planning, lack of proper maintenance and just plain ineptitude.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that planting acres of vegetables on land that is susceptible to flooding constitutes a waste of money, time and human resources and also causes grief. Protecting the earth also means protecting its people and for those in authority who seem to have forgotten, charity begins at home.
Perhaps the government will now see it fit to really give the coastal plain the infrastructural boost it so desperately needs, or alternatively offer highway plots as farmlands to the long-suffering farmers. Surely it is obvious by now that this state of affairs cannot continue.