Overnight rain resulted in severe flooding in Georgetown and its environs yesterday as well as in Region Three. Of course, this is nothing new. These days, it doesn’t take a lot of rain for the city to flood and various coastal areas are regularly inundated as well, also through overly high tides and koker failures.
What was new about yesterday’s situation was that several streets that never accumulated water before were completely covered. Others that are usually prone to flooding were even deeper under water than usual. Garbage from the drains and street corner piles, freed by the rising water floated along almost every street. The result was traffic chaos in most of the city.
The experiences of the 2005 Great Flood have affected people in different ways. Some Guyanese seem to have become immune to the ill effects and stoically awaited the ebb of the water so that they could bail out their homes and yards, clean up the mess left behind by the deposited mud and garbage and somehow get on with their lives. Others awakened with the beginning of the rain in the wee hours and peeped out every so often at the rising water, hoping there wouldn’t be a recurrence of that event, when so many people lost so much.
At the time of the writing of this column, there was as yet no official word on the amount of rainfall, but a look outside provided the evidence that it was a lot.
The lament for urgent action to prevent or at least alleviate the garbage and flooding crisis was once again sounded. Maybe we have written about it ad nauseam in these columns. But for as long as the problem remains, particularly in the instant case where it constitutes what can only be referred to as an environmental crisis, it is worth saying again and again until those in authority move to address it definitively. And this does not mean just talking about it.
Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy had said recently that the country was prepared for the rainy season and that all primary D&I structures, which are under the purview of the NDIA, were functioning. After yesterday, we all know that Dr Ramsammy’s understanding of readiness greatly differs from everyone else’s.
Part of the problem is that coastal areas in Guyana are below sea level. A system of sluices and kokers is used to drain the water accumulated on the land after heavy rain. However there are issues with this as well. The structures, which are manually operated, have been left open when they should be closed and vice versa as a result of a people problem – operators who have gone to work under the influence and slept when they should have been alert, or who never turned up at all.
However, the major issue is an all-round lack of maintenance of drains and drainage structures. There have been instances where koker doors failed suddenly, resulting in a particular area or another being drowned, but a closer look revealed that the door had been damaged or was ancient and needed replacing, but had been ignored.
Canals and drains, the majority of which were put in years ago, were built with a purpose. The drains to take the water off the land (streets, yards and so on) and the canals are intended to hold large amounts of water until it can be drained out to the sea/river. These systems do not work. In the city, there is probably not a single drain that isn’t clogged—at one end or another—with garbage, plastics and styrofoam included. And if they aren’t hosts to litter, then they are choked with weeds, silt, sand or builders’ waste. The drains have to be cleaned and cleared so that the accumulated water has some place to go and this must be done with regularity. The canals have to be desilted so that they can hold the amount of water they were originally dug to hold. It really is that simple.
Having publicly acknowledged that the body tasked with maintaining these structures in Georgetown, the Mayor and City Council, is ineffectual, we could go ahead and apply that same label to the government as well. The city is, after all, the seat of the government. And it would appear that the government is content to wallow in filth and to have the citizens it has been elected to serve do the same in addition to spending money they barely have to replace and repair water-damaged household appliances, fixtures and fittings every rainy season.
If the government is convinced that the city cannot do the job, and it has said so on several occasions, then the onus is on the government to get it done and to hold the long-awaited local government elections which would see the current crop of city fathers and mothers voted out and hopefully, competent people voted in.
The spanking new buildings going up and being tagged “development” by the central government amount to little more than cosmetic fixes and these too compound the problem, as it has been noted that some business persons have poor, little or no garbage disposal systems. Georgetown is on her last legs and cannot afford to wait much longer for her much needed operation.