Georgetown flood

As Georgetowners sloshed around in the water last Wednesday, they must have wondered whether it might be worth investing in a wooden boat and paddles, rather than a Toyota or a Hyundai, given that flooding is becoming such a regular feature of existence. With the possible exception of Dhaka in Bangladesh, there can be no other capital city in the world whose thoroughfares and bottom houses disappear below the water level with such expedition after merely a day’s rain. It is true that as Mayor Green reported, 5.5 inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period, but then we have been experiencing the effects of La Niña, a phenomenon to which this country is hardly a stranger.

After the catastrophe of 2005, one might have thought that the authorities would have committed themselves to doing the things which would keep the city – which after all is the centre of government and commerce – largely high and dry, but apparently not. Of course, no one is suggesting that we can eliminate flooding altogether; however, its frequency could surely be reduced as could the severity of its impact.

So what went wrong this time? The short answer is, all the usual things: clogged waterways, garbage filled trenches and alleyways, pumps not working, and the Liliendaal pump at a standstill for a time because of a blackout. According to the Mayor three of the pumps – at Forestry, Sussex Street and Lamaha Street – were not working, although the last mentioned was expected to be fixed within twelve hours. When reporters asked him why the pumps had not been tested in preparation for the rainfall, he responded that the problems arose without warning. “There are mechanical things that go bad without predictions, especially with shortage of mechanical staff and money. These things happen without notice,” we quoted him as saying in our Thursday edition. Well this was not good enough for the persistent media, and he was then directly confronted as to whether the pumps had suddenly stopped functioning. He answered in the affirmative.

He went on to say, however, that Georgetown’s pumps should be replaced every four years, but because of financial shortcomings, the M&CC had been unable to do this. Those currently in operation, apparently, have been in use for 7-10 years, though he qualified this by saying he could not be certain. In any event, three pumps going down so suddenly before heavy rainfall stretches credulity, and seems to suggest they had not been checked by the municipal authorities in recent times.

Then there is the matter of the Liliendaal pump, which drains a fair amount of north Georgetown. At the time the Mayor spoke to reporters, the Liliendaal and Kitty pumps were working, but he omitted to mention that during the night there had been a blackout which put the former out of commission for a time, thereby allowing the water to accumulate in some northern portions of the city. Of course Georgetown’s first citizen did not omit to mention that residents were blocking canals with garbage – an old problem which for some inexplicable reason the authorities appear incapable of addressing.

After the Great Flood of 2005, a team of Canadian technical consultants came down here to look at the city drainage infrastructure, among other things. They said that the municipality had 50 miles of canals, 12 outfalls, 13 kokers and eight pumps. It had been known for years, said their report, that more infrastructure was required, in addition to which records of the operations of the various elements in the system were incomplete and maintenance practices were questionable. At that time Mayor Green in response had cited the lack of funds from central government as being responsible for the dereliction, saying the city council had to find money for “a very imaginative maintenance programme.” After the experience last week, it seems that not a great deal has changed in six years, and no one in authority at any level has shown any appetite for a detailed look at the drainage system and what needs to be done to keep Georgetown viable in an era of changing weather patterns.

A lot of the problems in relation to drainage – although not all of them – are indeed to do with money and the poisonous relationship between central government and the city authorities. There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for the administration not ensuring that Liliendaal does not have some kind of alternative power source during electricity cuts, for example, and last week Mr Green said that he still hoped government could be persuaded to do something about it.  And if it really is the case that some of Georgetown’s pumps are no longer reliable on account of their age, then central government has a duty to the citizenry to replace them. Surely it does not take much to have them inspected by mechanical engineers to establish their status, and make a decision about whether they should continue in operation.

Maintenance, of course, is critical to everything – and not just the pumps. There is the digging of the drains and canals, for example, and keeping them clear of weeds and debris so the water flows. Part of that too is a monetary issue, as the Mayor never tires of pointing out. What, one wonders, is so difficult about the Ministry of Local Government sitting down with city officials and working out maintenance schedules (and inspection arrangements to see the schedules are adhered to), manpower needs, and in the case of the pumps, engineering requirements. In more orderly jurisdictions all these exercises would have been costed, and then conclusions come to about what central government should contribute and what should fall exclusively on the city council. Do not let us pretend here; courtesy of Burnham’s legislation, central government is the real authority in Georgetown, and not the M&CC, while every report on the council’s operations as well as the government’s own IMC from pre-1994, has adverted to the fact that the council cannot function on the revenue currently available to it.

The matter of littering, however, comes far more within the council’s ambit of control – although not exclusively so, since back-up from the police force would be required if there are to be changes in people’s habits. As every clean country knows, enforcement of the law is the key. And it is not just a matter of ordinary citizens throwing their styrofoam boxes and plastic bottles in the trenches; there are businessmen in the city centre, where the M&CC collects garbage religiously six days a week, who still pay persons to dump their rubbish in alleyways, on parapets or in any available space, from where it finds its way into the drainage canals. One can only marvel at their thought processes, but at the same time, where the city constabulary is concerned, what is so difficult about catching these persons? All it takes is a little imagination.

And whatever happened to the magistrate’s court which was assigned to deal with municipal matters such as littering? Does it still function? If it does, and the city constabulary and the police were doing their work, half the inhabitants of Georgetown could have passed through its portals by now. However, the law enforcement agencies have to be seized of the importance of apprehending those who litter, and not only because their action compromise the drainage system. The government too has to play its part by ensuring that we have no more garbage crises prior to local government elections. The municipality should never be in a position where it cannot afford to pay its contractors; payment must be an absolute priority. Everyone is tired of the political games, and no one is fooled any longer about what the government has been doing, the incompetence of the municipal bureaucracy notwithstanding. The residents of Georgetown are tired of the garbage all around and tired of the flooding. Let those who sit above the water line in Pradovilles 1 and 2 for once pay attention to their concerns.

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