We must remedy the flooding in South Ruimveldt, but a collective effort is needed for flood resiliency. What follows is an outline of some of the studies on the subject.
The ‘Georgetown Water and Sewage Master Plan’ of 1994 is instructive: “The City of Georgetown is drained by an interconnected network of pump and gravity systems. The network of open channels was originally developed to irrigate and drain the sugar plantations which occupied the land on which Georgetown now stands.” Outlining challenges to the drainage system it reads, “With urbanization of the area, over the years, the paving of previously pervious surfaces resulted in increased quantities of runoff. In an effort to alleviate flooding the function of the redundant irrigation canals was converted to that of drainage.”
We appreciate as well that infilling of canals also led to the current situation; the West Ruimveldt Canal (1972), Merriman’s Promenade (1958); Church Street Canal (1959) are just instances where we have lost tremendous reservoir capacity. A Guyana Review article, ‘Global Climate Change: Challenges for Guyana’ posed the question, “…should we not re-examine the drainage systems that were operational before facilities like the East Street and Sussex Street canals were filled? Certainly, restoring the drainage system to its optimal level should be an immediate priority for the government.” (2006)
As residents we can appreciate, as well, excess water being on the land through circumstances beyond our control like the recent heavy rains and high tide simultaneously, yet we have an expectation with the passage of time that its effects will be mitigated as soon as circumstances change. Theory and practice differ.
Another article in the Guyana Review, ‘Flooding: A way of life?’ made the point of the economic impact of floods: “Floods have an indirect impact that disrupts society. As is the case of all disasters, these impacts and their costs (or value) are not well documented. However, they include such things as business disruption and loss of income, loss of tax revenue, transportation delays, and the spread of illnesses, both physical and mental. There is also the indirect impact on other government-funded programmes. Each tax dollar spent on flood response, relief and recovery is a dollar not spent on other publicly-funded programmes such as education.” (2005)
It is a point that would later be amplified by Dr Balfour Spence at a lecture in 2013 at the University of Guyana, ‘Private Sector Engagement: An Imperative for Disaster Risk Management in Guyana’. Dr Spence posited, “The 1997 drought affected in excess of 660,000 Guyanese; the flood in 2005 impacted 30,000 persons.” He said that the drought and flood and related hazards of crop and insect infestations can be expected to become “more pronounced and extreme in the absence of appropriate mitigation measures. The consequences can become catastrophic for Guyana”.
Professor Spence opined that, “Economically they have set back the economy. The 2005 floods resulted in damages close to half a billion US dollars which is about 60% of Guyana’s GDP for the previous year. Impacts like these are not sustainable since progress made in a year can be set back in a few hours.
“The 2005 flood was an unprecedented event, reflecting the need for a proactive land use and development strategy for the coastlands. The optimization of land use is the critical baseline for the public-private sector engagement on risk management”, Spence noted.
As such, it was welcome news when recently the Dutch Risk Reduction (DDR) Team arrived, tasked with assisting with the development of a new pilot system and design model to improve the drainage and irrigation system in the city of Georgetown, and from whose final report, ‘Analysis of Drainage System in Georgetown, Guyana’ (2016),we can significantly benefit.
We seem closer to mitigating floods and their effects from South Ruimveldt since the DRR Team’s work focused primarily on South Ruimveldt as a catchment area. According to the Team’s Final Report, “Using the input from the local drainage system analysis, measured geometric data and simplified boundary conditions a full model of the South-Ruimveldt catchment was developed. This model can be used to assess and compare the effect of different interventions.”
Among other things the report noted that currently operation of the drainage system is based on experience while government wants to apply knowledge-based decisions on the drainage system. The report said, “During the first session of fieldwork in South Ruimveldt catchment area, it became clear that the local drainage system does not work as it should.
Many drains are filled with vegetation, litter and silt. As a consequence, flow is hindered. Due to the lack of outflow, the water level in the drains is relatively high, leading to limited storage capacity in the channels.
During heavy rainfall the water cannot discharge and cannot be stored. Because of this floods occur.”
“A wall divides the La Penitence channel in two sections of which one drains on the Ruimveldt-South channel. It is unsure if this wall functions as a division during high water conditions.”
“The South-Ruimveldt and Liliendaal channel are connected to each other by a siphon at Lamaha Street. However, the siphon does not function well and it is unclear what the interaction is between the two catchment areas. Discharge has been observed in both directions along large parts of the South-Ruimveldt channel.”
“Along the South-Ruimveldt areas several inflow points do not function anymore during high water levels in the primary channels because water levels on both side of the inflow point are equal.”
In the essay, ‘Evaluating Flood Resilience Strategies for Coastal Megacities’ the authors point out, “Flood risks and management approaches require location-specific analysis.” Also, “In estimating risks from flooding scenarios, cities play an important role as they have access to (spatial) data on the assets such as buildings, infrastructure, and environmentally protected areas and socio-demographics of flood zones. Catastrophic modeling expertise from the insurance industry can be useful for cities, and new knowledge partnerships are needed between city agencies, research institutes and private sector specialists.”
As such an equally welcoming development is Cabinet’s decision to create an inter-agency task force to manage and improve the drainage in Georgetown, comprising City Hall, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority and Ministry of Communities, whose subject Minister Ronald Bulkan leads the Task Force.
Sherod Avery Duncan
Municipality of Georgetown