No new flood plan needed, gov’t must get present D&I system working

Dear Editor,

APNU/AFC have recently proposed that the PPP/C Government initiate a National Flood Control Plan funded by the Government and possibly International Agencies/Donors to come up with solutions to solve the recurring flooding of coastal Guyana and other areas which has brought so much suffering to the people living in the low-lying areas prone to flooding with resulting damage to their properties at every cloud burst.

Unfortunately this proposal appears to be another time and money wasting exercise as methods for draining and reduce flooding of most of the low-lying lands in Guyana have been fairly well established. What is lacking is a commitment by the Government to properly operate and maintain the systems and these have been compounded by bad political decisions with respect to their priorities, poor management and lack of resources for the sector. In any coastal area if the drainage canals leading to the sluices are de-silted to design bed level/slope elevations and cleared of weeds and debris with the sluices working as per design and the outfall channels cleared of sling mud to bed level, flooding should occur only by exceptionally heavy downpours as no planning can prevent flooding from extreme cases unless there are unlimited financial resources to build the necessary infrastructure to do so. Nowadays many low-lying areas have had their drainage enhanced by the placement of pumps to get rid of excess water when the tide is up and the sluices closed. If together all these elements are operational as per design and working in tandem, then why is flooding of coastal low lands so common?

Take Georgetown as an example. The drains in Bel Air Park and elsewhere in the City have not been touched by the M&CC for over 25 years. Property owners try to keep their drains clean but in reality this has been getting them nowhere because their drains are part of an integrated system which has to function as a whole. At the start of the rainy season in December last year most of the drainage canals in the City were clogged with silt, weeds and floating debris, outfall channels silted with mud, pumps broken down and so forth and so on.  Following flooding of the business district and other economic disruptions the blame game for causes of the flooding started flying left, right and centre with those time worn excuses for doing nothing such as lack of resources, irresponsible Georgetowners dumping garbage in the drains and clogging them, El Nino and oh yes!! Ms. Sooba, the beloved Town Clerk for not opening the City’s coffers fast enough to carry out regular maintenance and emergency works.

Knee jerk reaction is no way to solve a perennial problem nor is preparation of a flood plan necessary to tell Mayor Green how to prevent flooding of his City. He laments that if he could only get his hands on those funds he so badly needs from the Government and Ms. Sooba’s tight fists to straighten things out, he could once again return Georgetown to its former glory as the ‘Garden City’ with no flooding, he assures the Citizenry. Dr. Roopnaraine, a well-known Parliamentarian and a proponent for a flood control pla0  w under construction at Dochfour twice daily as he commutes to his Office in the City and is familiar with much of its construction progress. This is one of the costliest projects now under construction in Guyana. Its construction was politically motivated as no feasibility study was carried out to determine its economic and financial viability. Unfortunately, Dr. Roopnaraine has never openly raised serious questions in the National Assembly on the Project’s cost and time overruns nor sought a commitment from the Government as to when the sluice gates will be opened to safely discharge flood waters from the East Demerara Conservancy into the Atlantic Ocean and what cost. Completion of this Project is always today, tomorrow.

Minister Ramsammy has stated that the Project’s cost is within budget but he has been vague as to where the money will come from to pay for the additional engineering services, the many change orders and additional wages and running costs for operating and maintaining the equipment digging the canal for a project that has over two years of time overrun. Further, it is claimed that the penalty clauses in the three contracts for contracts delay will not be enforced as the Contractors’ tardiness to execute the work on time has not only been their fault but that of the Government whose commitment to complete certain integrated Project works on time was never fulfilled, for example the eight sluice gates.

It is not necessary at this time to goad the Government for a National Flood Control Plan when it has so much unfinished business pertaining to its drainage and irrigation sector hanging in the air such as the pumps which were ordered from India lying at the wharf and which should have been installed and operational six months ago. Maintenance and servicing of pump units installed at the Hope Sluice location and elsewhere is necessary to enable them to be fully functional as and when needed.

Sadly, the Pump Operator at Hope, ECD recently had to almost go down on his knees and beg the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority to send someone to carry out the necessary repairs to the non-functioning pump there at the height of the rainy season in December as flood waters were building up dangerously high in the Hope drainage channel. Servicing of these pumps have to be carried out regularly and not when the equipment breaks down. There has to be a planned programme in place for operation and maintenance of all D&I equipment for optimum performance.

What became of the Government sponsored World Bank Study to improve the safety and operation of the East Demerara Conservancy and which should have been completed since March 2013? Where is this report with the recommendations for consideration and execution by the Government or are they waiting for a repeat of the 2005 Flood before action is taken to do what is considered necessary?

I trust that APNU/AFC is fully aware of the needs of the drainage and irrigation (D&I) lowlands of Guyana and that the infrastructure is in place to achieve the desired objectives. Unfortunately the system is not working for some of the reasons outlined herein.  I have not touched on the Sea Defences but its impact must be taken into account for any improvement of the D&I system. However, what is needed at this time is not another study but to get the system which is in place with respect to D&I working as it was designed to do although some modifications here and there may be necessary to improve efficiency and a changing environment.

 Yours faithfully,

Charles Sohan 




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