Story and photos by Roger Wong
After decades of transportation distress, residents of Parika and Naamryck Backdam welcome the sudden pitching of the main access road, but they are hoping that another inaccessible road which connects Naamryck Backdam to Parika Dam may gain the attention of the relevant authorities.
At the moment, residents of Naamryck Backdam who do not have a boat are being forced to trudge some distance, before they can access a vehicle, since the main road can only accommodate the wheels of a tractor.
During a visit in the area, Sunday Stabroek met Shanta who works as a cleaner with the Parika Backdam Nursery School. Shanta, 47, said that she lived all her life in the farming community and has always known the roads to be in a deplorable state. “Since me a lil gal growing up here, the road deh same way… Only now me see them a hustle fuh do the main road,” she said. She also related that about ten years ago pipelines were installed in the area, but they have never functioned.
When contacted, Guyana Water Inc Public Relations Officer Timothy Austin informed that the installation of the pipelines in the community was a collaborative effort between the Government of Guyana and Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) and the work is being done at a cost of $9 million. He said the necessary infrastructure will be completed by the end of May and residents can make applications for water in April.
Mention was also made of lamp poles being erected along the road and Shanta is hoping that electricity will be made available to the community at an early date and the time span for the service will not follow in the trend of the pipeline.
Shanta, who is also a farmer, explained that the condition of the road has seen taxi drivers raising the fare from $200 to $500 at times, which has been making life financially difficult for them since at the moment the price for greens is very cheap. She also noted that the drivers can’t always take the passengers to the full destination although they charge the full fare. This is because of the road’s condition.
It was under such conditions that a young girl who was left to walk the lonely distance to go home was raped, murdered and buried in a shallow grave some years ago, the woman said as she expressed concern for the school children who have to walk home by themselves, especially once it gets late.
Persons who live in Naamryck Backdam often opt to lessen their journey and instead of walking along the damaged road after they are put off by taxis, cross through farms and empty land. But Shanta viewed this as unsafe and she referred to a case where a taxi driver was also murdered in the area.
The mother also expressed the need for landline phones in the area so that internet facilities could be made available to school children. She noted that they have to pay excessive sums of money to travel to Parika to access the internet to get their assignments done.
Concerns were also raised about the schools and health post operating without any security. Shanta mentioned that children in nursery school are sometimes left in the school hungry, to wait for hours for older siblings to take them home, due to the condition of the road which does not facilitate hire cars to transport the children after school.
Some of the residents who spoke to this newspaper under conditions of anonymity requested a qualified health worker to be stationed at the health post since they said that the current person who operates there can only administer first aid treatment. Pregnant mothers have to travel all the way to Parika to attend clinic and in the event of an emergency one has to source money for a taxi for the five-mile journey then drive to the Leonora Cottage Hospital or West Demerara Regional Hospital.
At the health post, Sunday Stabroek met the single health worker employed there, Devika, who said she has been living at Parika Backdam for the past 25 years and transportation has always been a challenge since her school days.
Devika said the only help she needs at the moment is a cleaner, since she is pregnant and might not be able to continue to do the cleaning herself, as her pregnancy advances.
She said someone had applied for the job but no response was given from those in charge.
Lisa, 32, who lived most of her life the area said she had seen slow improvements in the community over the years. She too noted that internet service is vital for the community and expressed hope for a new road, telephone service and electricity.
Dularie Nankishore who lives at Naamryck Backdam had taken a day off from her farm work to relax at home.
Nankishore has been living in the village for over 30 years. She farms ground provision and vegetables with her family and noted that the biggest problem in the area is the road’s condition. “Ah the road, because if you gah go buy grocery and gas and so ’e terrible!” Nankishore said though she counts herself fortunate to have a tractor which transports her produce to a waiting Canter which would be waiting up to the point where vehicles could traverse.
Shelliza, a housewife living in Naamryck for 35 years said the road is the major “botheration.” “When the road bad you can’t send you children to school. It hard fuh them reach out and reach in,” Shelliza said. She would borrow a small outboard engine and a neighbour’s boat to transport her children to school sometimes.
A farmer who harvested about eight hundred pounds of tomatoes and was preparing for the market at the time of this newspaper’s visit, although he declined to share his name, noted that the deplorable road results in him fetching his produce up the point where vehicles can drive or sometimes he would borrow a vehicle to transport his produce.
Safoura Persaud, 61, has been in Naamryck Backdam for over 30 years and she too related that the road is the major problem in the community. Persaud noted that some persons started to utilize outboard engines as transportation but she said that it is far more expensive, since it requires gasoline which is costly.
A camping facility owned by the Faith Community Ministry in Parika which facilitates annual social and religious events has also been adversely affected due the road’s condition. Pastor Motie Singh said that the services and accommodation is also rented out to host camps, seminars and different activities but owing to the difficulty of traversing the road, they had to cancel some of the business after persons visited the area and observed the road.
But in Singh’s opinion the farmers suffer the most.
At the time of this newspaper’s visit, a businessman, Papoo, was just about to leave with his Canter laden with fresh provisions and vegetables which he had just purchased from farmers in the area.
Papoo lives in Ruby Backdam but buys produce from the farmers in Parika and Naamryck Backdam. He said the road which connects Ruby Backdam to Parika Backdam was excavated over three weeks ago for repairs. The excavation, the businessman said, has caused him to do excessive driving to buy his goods. A mere crossing separates the two roads but he is now required to drive out from Ruby Backdam onto the public road, then all the way through the Parika Backdam road to do his purchasing.
A sign erected at the Ruby Backdam access road displays the total cost of the road as $421,934,100 by the Government of Guyana with support of a loan from the Caricom Development Fund.
Meanwhile, Malcolm, who is supervising the construction of the access road at Parika Backdam said that they have a November deadline for the completion of that section of the road which covers about 6 km. He said he is hoping for the road to be completed before the deadline.
At the Parika Facade, there is also confusion over a new street which was being built for home owners but has suddenly been diverted towards the drainage and irrigation reserve instead.
The diversion, according to Singh, was a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Singh said he cannot understand the reason for the diversion as it will facilitate squatters rather than the legitimate homeowners. In addition, Singh who is a former Neighbourhood Demo-cratic Council chairman, said that should the direction of the construction of the street follow the intended plan it would have also resulted in the value for the properties being increased.
A visit to the Regional Office in Region 3 for a comment saw the chairman directing this newspaper to Regional Executive Officer Donald Gajraj. However, Gajraj advised that contact be made with the Ministry of Public Works. When contacted, Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn referred this reporter to Engineer Denita Crandon who then asked that contact be made with a Jeffrey Walcott. Calls to his cellphone only produced a voice message and were not returned.
Crandon did say that the street being constructed at the Parika Facade was being done under the Ministry of Housing, but attempts made to obtain a comment from the Ministry of Housing were fruitless.
Ronald Greene, in front of whose property the street is being paved said he also could not fathom the reason for the diversion. “I don’t know if this road finish but water still lodging on it and right now is only Canters can drive here, because when the rain fall, the place turns to slush,” he said.
Greene also mentioned that squatters are constructing buildings and fencing on the reserve, blocking the legitimate homeowners from accessing the main canal.
Greene said that he visited the NDC office and reported the matter but he was told that the NDC did not know how to deal with the matter.
The reserve along the Parika Facade remains encumbered with squatters, while more construction is ongoing.