Relocation of key facilities from flood-prone areas is a plan that should be implemented urgently, Lethem residents say.
In the wake of the biggest flooding seen in years that swept through the Region Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo) community earlier this month, residents identified the power station, the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) earth station and the police station as the facilities which should be relocated to higher ground.
President of the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), Alfred Ramsaran told Stabroek News that the idea of relocating the power station had been raised at meetings during the flood earlier this month. He pointed out that in the Rupununi, the rainy season began earlier this month and would last until the end of August. GT&T, located close to the power station, is another critical facility that should be relocated as well, he said. “Every time there’s a big flood, they’re the most hit,” said Ramsaran.
Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud said on Wednesday at a flood recovery workshop in Lethem that the power station as well as key facilities will be moved to higher ground. The relocation of residents living in low-lying areas is something that is being examined as well.
Persaud told Stabroek News that the regional authorities are taking the lead on this with the involvement of other agencies. Relocation of those in the most vulnerable areas is seen as critical since the authorities have warned of the possibility of another big flood in the near future because of changing weather patterns due to climate change.
Terrence Boston, the Chairman of the Ireng/ Sawariwau Neighbourhood Democratic Council under which Lethem falls told Stabroek News that the authorities have not discussed the issue with residents but he supports the idea. “I think it would be the ideal thing to do,” he said.
He pointed out that the Lethem Police Station, located close to the Takutu River, is also a critical facility that should be relocated. The building is another that is affected by flooding during the normal rainy seasons. Boston recalled that the station was placed at that location to accommodate river traffic since that was the major mode of transport but times have since changed and it is now “isolated.”
“Now that the community is expanding and is moving outward, you need to move that station to a central point,” he observed. Boston also pointed out that the barracks can barely accommodate the ranks stationed there, moreso, those with families. He said that the station is now playing a bigger role since the opening of the Takutu Bridge and the Officer-in-Charge sometimes has to entertain his counterparts from Brazil who visit from time to time but only has an area little bigger than a “cell” for this.
In relation to GT&T, he noted that they had heard discussions about what action the company might take. “No one knew at some time down the line, that water would come this high,” the NDC chairman said. “They may need to redo that building and raise it.”
Meantime, with regards to persons living in flood-prone areas, Boston noted that the NDC does not have control of land in the area. The Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) allocates land for residential purposes but does this from the city and does not have an office in Lethem, he said. “They will plan and come in and institute the plan” but have little knowledge of the lay of the land, he said. “Instead of discouraging people from living in those areas, they give people land in those areas,” the NDC chairman added. He also acknowledged that some persons knew that the land was flood-prone but still built in those areas while others in certain areas have become used to annual flooding but with quick run-off.
Boston said that though some persons may not want to move, those willing to, should be relocated. He called for an office of the CH&PA to be established in Lethem which “could deal with the situation as it is on the ground.” He noted that the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission previously did what the housing authority is doing now. “With CH&PA running it out of this region, you don’t have a proper system,” he said pointing to some of the problems encountered including persons getting multiple house lots and others having the land they were awarded, taken away. The housing authority “need to come into the area, sit down with us and let’s talk, we know the area,” said Boston.
Meantime, Ramsaran suggested that the power plant could be moved to the light manufacturing zone in the established commercial area. He said that about 40 businesses were directly affected by the recent flood and the RCCI had suggested that they can move to the commercial zone but this is an issue that has to be examined further. The RCCI President recalled that there were 64 plots allocated in the commercial zone but not all those who were awarded land have occupied it. The majority of these are from the coast, he noted.
Ramsaran pointed out that when the commercial zone was established two years ago, it was with the understanding that businesses would begin work within six months and complete it within two years.
This period would end in August. “There are a lot of persons who have not even started work on their land,” he said adding that the majority, including well-established companies, were from the coast. He suggested that the land could be re-allocated to affected businesses from Lethem.
In relation to persons living in low-lying areas, Ramsaran said that they should be encouraged to seek higher ground. He noted that some may not want to move. “It’s an area that we have to look at urgently,” he said. He also said that another issue that should attract attention is drainage. “There is no drainage in Lethem so the water goes where it wants to go,” the RCCI President said. In addition, he said, the airstrip’s runway needs re-surfacing and there are several bad spots on it.
The major floodwaters have receded but the community still faces shortages due to the poor state of sections of the Linden-Lethem road. Last week, fuel and food prices were hiked as well as mini-bus fares. “We’re running very low on supplies,” said Ramsaran adding that they were trying to bring in some from the coast.