Extreme weather, rising sea to make coastlands uninhabitable sooner than expected, experts say

The combination of extreme weather events in the short-term and rising sea-levels in the long-term will render the coastal areas uninhabitable much sooner than expected, according to presenters at a panel discussion on sea level rise.

Filipino expert Rev. Dr. Pedro Walpole SJ and local businessman and promoter of re-location strategies Stanley Ming, using impactful graphic presentations, concurred that the combination of extreme weather events in the short-term and rising sea-levels in the longer-term will render the coastal areas uninhabitable, a press release from the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) stated.

The GHRA and the East Coast Clean-Up Committees organised the panel discussion on the ‘Impact of Sea Level Rise in SE Asia: Lessons for Social Action in Guyana,’ which was held in the Cara Lodge Conference Room last Tuesday. The aim was to invigorate a national consultation on the future of Guyana’s coastlands.

The large crowd in attendance received a clear message that the time-frame for inundation of the coastlands is probably much shorter than expected, the GHRA said

The statement said that Dr. Walpole commented on the fact that 1.5 inches of rainfall in 24 hours is all that is currently required to producing flooding in Georgetown, calling it a “staggeringly low” and an indicator that we can expect many floods. “Guyana has more pressing worries than rising sea levels,” he was quoted as saying.  “The more likely source of serious inundation is the increasing number of extreme weather events.”

Ming, meanwhile, noted that 95 per cent of Guyana is way above sea-level. “Why are we then spending billions of dollars on the 5 per cent we are losing, rather than develop the 95 per cent?” he asked. The GHRA said that the businessman illustrated his argument by referring to the detailed studies undertaken by German scientists a decade ago on the benefits to be gained by encouraging human settlement in the vast expanse of higher lands between Parika and Bartica.

Meantime, along with learning to live with water differently, Dr. Walpole stressed the importance of finding strategies for bringing all sectors of the society together in collaborating on solutions. “There is a major problem of communication and commitment in the world on climate change. We need high levels of collaboration between societies and within societies, between different sectors.  There has to be a new dynamic in which everyone is brought into the process. We must collaborate,” he was quoted as saying.

“Our exposure to environmental risks may be lessened if we learn to adapt and develop social and environmental contracts. Adaptation initiatives should be translated into enabling actions,” he added.

With respect to re-location, Dr. Walpole pointed out that people put livelihood before life and sustainable re-location involves regeneration of livelihoods for the poor in particular. “We need a new framework for development. Working for a green economy has to be a real economy,” he said.

The statement pointed out that both speakers stressed the need for a “meta-political” approach to environmental solutions. Ming pointed to the limitation of political strategies linked to five-year electoral cycles. Dr. Walpole stressed the need to work collectively, not politically given the longer environmental cycle.  Solutions should be driven socially rather than politically, since those driving a solution politically will be held accountable for everything that happens within five years. Rather than solutions, we need to communicate perspectives and collaboration in building capacity and commitments, the statement said.

Further, the GHRA noted that capacity-building is the key challenge, particularly among young people. “In the Philippines, we spend 60% of the time talking about corruption. The best response to corruption is to build capacity. We need to empower young people who need to know and to participate much sooner. At present we do not have the capacity to translate the science to those who do not have the means to change,” Dr. Walpole was quoted as saying.  “The process must also include looking at ourselves. We have to look at ourselves if we want to change. I must change in my life and others have to do the same. This is not a blame-game,” he added.

The statement said that in introducing the discussion, moderator of the panel, GHRA Executive Secretary and environmentalist Michelle Kalamandeen indicated that the GHRA is particularly interested in the combination of science and social action on the environment. “Current techniques embrace a philosophy of “living with water”, as flooding is inevitable and it’s better to prepare for them than to build ever-higher dykes that may fail catastrophically,” she was quoted as saying.

She also pointed out that “in the Netherlands thousands of waterways are being connected so that the country can essentially act as one big sponge and absorb sudden influxes of water. Some areas have also been designated as flood zones with the building of houses that can float. But climate-proofing a city or coastline is expensive as shown by the US$20 billion plan of New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.”

The statement said that an extended question time reflected the cross-section of interests in attendance, encompassing academics, farmers, religious, engineers, youth and indigenous people. “The GHRA views this as an inaugural event in what it hopes will develop into a range of initiatives to help translate science into effective social action, particularly at community levels across Guyana,” the statement said.

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