Standing still

There are several disturbing things that the current rainy season has forced into the spotlight. Chief among them is the torpor that seems to have damned local government systems – and not just in the city. The holding of local government elections, while a step in the right direction, did not and cannot make the system work. People have to do that; specifically, the people who were elected as well as those who were hired to fill certain posts.

Perhaps the worst was the revelation that horrible flooding in Wismar, Linden was due to a broken sluice door that had been that way for about a year. Now, the one thing everyone in Guyana can be sure about is that it will rain at least twice a year. Some years, some areas get less rainfall and some years they get more. The variance often has to do with what is happening in other parts of the world, notably the Caribbean region. There is another thing that ought to be common knowledge as well, and that is that every drain, trench, canal and outfall; every koker/sluice; every pump and conservancy are critical to draining accumulated water off the land.

One hopes too that all Guyanese—not just local government leaders—are cognizant of the fact that drainage systems were not just put in place willy-nilly and that there is a method to the network as regards what was put where. It stands to reason then that these drainage systems ought to be properly maintained. But clearly there is no reason when it comes to local government.

One only has to consider the fact that the malaise that plagued City Hall during the administrations of former presidents Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar, which saw attempts to clear drainage systems in the height of the rainy season, has not been cured. This column noted the frantic attempts that began in areas of south Georgetown last month—at the beginning of the May/June rains—that have so far proven to be too little too late, despite the drivel published in the state newspaper on Sunday under the caption ‘Georgetown withstands persistent rainfall’. Not only was that article not true of south Georgetown, but several other areas in the expanded city—Cummings Lodge to Agricola—also fared horribly.

In nearly every community where flooding has been an issue, residents invariably point to drains that have not been desilted and are choked with vegetation. The dumping of garbage, while still an issue, is not as bad as it used to be. The fact is—as has been stated ad nauseam in this column—drains, trenches, canals and outfalls have to be desilted. It has to be an ongoing process where a schedule is fixed to do it every few months. No city, town or community should ever have to be the feature of a clean-up campaign if local government systems are working and are being proactive.

It must also be noted here that most if not all Guyanese are aware of global warming and climate change. Even if they are unable to fully articulate what each one means, there is a consciousness that the way mankind has lived has set in motion a series of events that has resulted in the earth’s surface temperature rising which has caused a rise in sea levels and extreme weather events, among other things.

Guyana is among 175 countries that have signed the December 2015 Paris Agreement, which among other things, seeks to place national curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. While this country’s carbon footprint may be minuscule compared to that of industrialised nations, especially given that our protected forests may very well balance out our emissions, climate change does not pick which countries it will affect. And since erratic and extreme weather events are what we can expect now and in the future, it seems rather silly not to be doing everything that can possibly be done to prepare the country and its citizens to withstand them.

More than that, to wax lyrical about a green state and not have an issue as basic as drainage under control can only be viewed as puerile. Yes the coast will flood when there is heavy rainfall compounded by high tides, but once the tide wanes, sluices and pumps should quickly remove the water. This is not happening. Why? Everyone knows which canals have to be cleared; that squatters have to be removed; that all koker doors must be functional and so on. Where is the will to get it done? Where is the leadership? Must citizens really be satisfied with elected local government officials sitting around a table once a month talking about these issues? Or—as in the case of Region Five—not talking?

Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States was quoted as saying, “In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still.” How high does the water have to get while coastal residents mark time in it?