A contributing factor to the epic flooding in January 2005 was the government’s incorrect prediction of a drought, which led to the decision to close sluice doors to raise the level of standing water in the East Demerara Water Conservancy, former US Ambassador Roland Bullen said.
His assessment was made in an April 2006 cable to Washington released by whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks last week. Bullen noted that subsequent overtopping led to substantial flooding in Georgetown and the coastal plain. At the time, he was requesting from Washington a Science Fellow with expertise in agro-meteorology to work with the Embassy and the Guyana government to assess and build capacity in forecasting techniques and water management.
Bullen said that forecasting capacity was also limited. He said that the epic flooding in Georgetown and the Atlantic Coast in January 2005 and flooding that devastated farmlands in December 2005/January 2006 revealed Guyana’s lack of capacity to predict and disseminate accurate weather information. “This is a particularly serious vulnerability for a country in which 90% of the population lives in areas below high tide level. Much of the GOG and the donor community’s attention following the floods has focused on improving drainage and irrigation systems and reengineering the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC), the dam which collects water flowing from Guyana’s hinterlands,” he noted.
Bullen said that improving the collection of weather data remains a gap in the government. He said that the government lacked information on rainfall data in the interior of the country, making effective control of the water level in the EDWC extremely difficult. The flooding in January 2005 and December/January 2006 revealed both a lack of ability to forecast as well as a dearth of accurate weather information, he stressed.
“Improvements to the Guyana Hydrometeorological Service’s forecasting abilities will not only assist flood mitigation, but will also improve the way seasonal agriculture is practiced in Guyana,” he added.
In another cable, Bullen had reported that the absence of simple factual data about levels of rainfall and status of drainage infrastructure combined with the government’s “incoherent approach” suggests that Guyana has learned little from the past and remains at the mercy of the rains. This was after flooding in 2006.
Bullen said the Embassy had also been receiving data from the Hydromet Office, but the data was of limited use, since 13 of 14 rainfall gauges were on the coast and therefore did not report interior rainfall.
Later, in a follow-up cable, dated January 17, 2006, Bullen again referred to the lack of adequate information on rainfall at the conservancy. He said that after a meeting held by the government with donors, the Head of the Civil Defence Commission Chabilall Ramsarup acknowledged that there were no rainfall gauges in the conservancy or the conservancy watersheds “so assessing how much water is draining relative to how much is falling is impossible.” Bullen also cited the difficulty of obtaining accurate information on the EDWC.
He said that on January 17, 2006 at a meeting of the Guyana Citizens’ Initiative for Flood Relief, Major General (ret) Joe Singh had said that the level that day in the EDWC was 58.65 GD (an increase of one inch overnight) and that he expected the Lama sluice to be opened immediately. Bullen said that an EDWC engineer related to embassy’s consul that same day that the EDWC level was 58.4 GD compared to the 58.5 GD the day before. Further, the engineer said that the Lama sluice was not open. “Such conflicting reports reflect the difficulty of obtaining accurate data on the status of the EDWC,” he said in the cable.