A national disgrace

The rains finally came.  Within a few short hours the once proud Garden City became Duck City.  Whether from the safety of upper stories, behind the cocoon of windshields, or the close embrace of ankle-deep streams, Guyanese resignedly reacquainted themselves with an unwanted, but all too familiar, companion and neighbour.  Even with a bone dry land, all it took was a few hours of moderate rainfall, and the dreaded floodwaters were back by the elbows of the sleeping, and the knees of the walking.

For those looking for suspects and a place to lay blame try the city council, El Nino, sea levels, and irresponsible citizens.  It would be right and accurate to do so, but it is not enough, and acquits the main suspects sheltering in central government.  Any reasonable individual would have a serious problem with the frequency and level of flooding that quickly transforms Georgetown and its extended environs into a cloying, miserable swamp.  Yet the President and ministers can face the day before the newly formed Georgetown River, and go about their business without a sense of accountability – or shame – for their failure.

Dry and shameless are the leaders who point to monies spent, and how much more it would cost to identify and implement a more acceptable solution.  They retreat into further shamelessness when, after a mere three to five hours of steady rain, the capital city easily becomes a dirty, unhealthy lagoon in vast swathes.  Amidst the national embarrassment of a waterlogged capital, of almost knee-high waders, of mud and filth and the indescribable, and of potential serious health hazards swirling and clinging, there is indifference at the helm.  Worse, all of this now provokes only muted outcry and resigned shrugs, whether from President Bharrat Jagdeo, or his band of intrepid nautical overseers cavorting around in their land yachts.  Leaders had already lost credibility; now the readily submerged city has washed away all pride and any remaining self respect.  They have fallen so low that nothing disgraces any more.

To be really pointed, the President reads the newspapers, watches television, traverses the street, and would therefore be aware that it did rain, and of what occurred almost immediately afterwards.  Any self-respecting leader would be scandalized and galvanized towards concerted action to alleviate the situation.  Not eliminate the flooding totally, but incur an observable easing of the inexplicable levels recently experienced.  Stated differently, the experiences of last week should only result after a sustained period of unremitting rainfall; in other words, a monsoon.  Yet, the pictures and reality speak for themselves; they ask what of substance was done in the past several years.

From all indications, it is not much, given the billion dollars supposedly spent after the Great Flood, and the many more millions expended annually since.  There was the highly publicized firing of sluice operators; commissioning of a functioning pump here and a non-functioning one there; clearing drains and depositing the silt on the higher sides; and showers of speeches and photo opportunities.

Still, this is not only about a lack of engineering vision or the calibre of political malfeasance; it is more about face and standards.  The face and standards required to embrace the international community of resident envoys and national guests with panache and solemn dignity while surrounded by the equivalent of a heaving national toilet.  A toilet rippling with ominous detritus that may have had dubious, if not frightening, origins, be it rotting carcasses or emancipated sewage.  It has to require a special kind of leader to remain unsullied by the sight, sound, smell, and indignity that washes and crests during his watch.  No amount of brass can conceal the humiliation that accompanies each inundation.  No political leader who has any personal pride left should be comfortable or understanding or patient or accepting of this reality, or continue to remain unthinking.  For too long, the Guyanese public has submitted to this galling atrocity, while doused with the slime and foolishness of those responsible.  Now years later, and after all the monies said spent, citizens should not be reduced to cowering every time that it rains continuously for more than sixty minutes.

Therefore, Mr President, it is time to stop flying high and come down low.  Appreciate what it is like to shake dirty water out from the shoe; to wake up to water as carpet or pillow; to walk the plank to pay the light bill.  It is time to be above board with Guyanese thrown overboard.  Mr President, try inhaling the aroma of the soggy streets, compliments of the unfortunates who call it home; or try absorbing the ecotourism potential of Alberttown and Albouystown, where the yards are transformed into veritable wetlands.  Some of this may prompt identification with the plight of the dismissed common man.

Remember, this is not about some distant, sparsely inhabited place.  This is about the capital city: the seat of government; the official premises of the diplomatic missions and numerous regional and international bodies; the commercial complexes; the education hub; the concentration of houses of worship; the temporary abode of foreign visitors; and the most densely populated patch in the country.  In many ways, Georgetown is the Manhattan of Guyana.  It is likely that the really caustic might associate it with one of the grittier sections, such as Washington Heights or Hell’s Kitchen.  Regardless, this is not about a minor problem or about city dwellers only.  It is about a chronic, acute, and distressing matter for all those Guyanese who live, pass through, conduct business, or have the misfortune to be acquainted with this epicentre of activity.  Are you listening, Mr President?  Hear besieged countrymen, who find themselves sold down the river; who must each swim or sink on his own in the ooze and muck.  Observe them study the canopy overhead for the relief of water, and the wretchedness of the inevitable accompanying cesspool.  Perhaps, you might be moved to step into their sopping shoes and clothes and homes and do something.

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