For every occurrence of rain-fuelled flooding in Georgetown there are manifestations in various other parts of the country and particularly in the communities nestled along the Abary, Mahaicony and Mahaica creeks. While Georgetown and the lower East Coast may groan under the weight of the floods for a couple of days, quite often the residents of these creek areas have to deal with weeks of dislocation since they must depend on the efficiency of drainage through the estuaries and the delicate balance that guards against saltwater intrusion. Over the last 20 years, there have been at least a dozen major flood events in these communities, sometimes twice in the same year and in consecutive years. Some years, the flooding is hardly remarkable and escapes notice in the city yet many of the hardy people of these communities still suffer loss of crops, livestock and faith.
Well-removed from Georgetown and the centre of government, the problems of these riverain communities tend to be relegated and easily forgotten. It is heartening therefore, that the new Minister of Health Dr George Norton made a visit to several Mahaicony communities last week to provide some comfort to flood-affected residents. It is hoped that there will be many more visits by the ministers concerned and importantly, the technicians who can begin analysis of the long-term prospects for these hardy folk and their communities.
For a number of years and more frequently since 2005, Stabroek News has been paying regular visits to the communities of Pine Ground, Gordon Table, First Savannah, Water Dog, Bara Bara, Big Baiboo, Little Baiboo, Grass Hook, Joe Hook and Handsome Tree among many others. The suffering of the residents has been immense and is typified by the devastation of their small holdings as this newspaper witnessed again on Friday.
“All the garden duck and is what I live on. Right now is just me and I lose all me garden that does maintain me”, an elderly woman of Pine Ground, Dhasri Singh, said to Stabroek News as she pointed out that her garden contained various crops such as bora, corilla, ochro, and bhagee that she would use to cook and sometimes sell.
Aside from the fragility of their cash crop and livestock livelihoods, the residents are usually cut off from their normal existence for many days. Relief supplies are sporadic and compensation is not on the cards. Health care is dodgy and there is significant exposure to water-borne illnesses. Over the years many have moved out or relocated to higher ground in other parts of the creeks.
Their refrain has been the same. Rain fuels the rise of the rivers but as far as the residents are concerned the major increase in levels has to do with discharge from the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) through the Maduni sluice and thereby flooding the Mahaica Creek in particular. This was what was told to the Stabroek News reporter who ventured up the Mahaicony Creek on Friday. While the drainage authority has admitted releases via the Maduni sluice in some years, most notably in 2005 and 2006, in many of the other years there has been an outright denial that any water has been released from the EDWC via the Maduni outlet into the Mahaica Creek. This was the case again this year and to support its statement, the Ministry of Agriculture arranged a visit on Saturday to the Maduni and Lama sluices to show that these had not been opened.
It is evident that there needs to be hydrological and flow studies of the Mahaica, Mahaicony and Abary creeks to ascertain where the problems exist and how these might have evolved over the years from the point at which the MMA scheme was first conceptualised. It remains a source of contention whether Part One of the MMA Scheme at Abary functions anywhere close to how it should be functioning and whether it is now part of the problem. While Georgetown’s flooding problems will now likely be addressed with greater urgency, it is also important that the communities along the Mahaica and Mahaicony creeks be relieved of the stress of the regular inundations. In the interim, while the larger questions are hammered out, the farmers and residents should be given an option to relocate to higher ground or to other areas as had been done for some earlier.
The ongoing flooding in the creeks is the perfect opportunity for the Ministries of the Presidency, Agriculture and Public Infrastructure to take measures to alleviate the suffering of those people and to ensure that long-term solutions are high on the agenda of the APNU+AFC government.