West Berbice farmers still awaiting flood compensation

By Daniel DaCosta
Stabroek News
April 12, 2000

Thousands of West Berbicians who suffered losses totalling millions of dollars following widespread flooding in sections of the sub-region in 1998 are still awaiting some form of compensation and assurances that the annual deluge will be tackled.

The December 1998 flood had been described as one of the worst in 19 years and comparable to the great floods of the 1930s. Residents in some seven villages within the union/Naarstigheid Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) area suffered structural damage to their homes and loss of cash crops and livestock, including cattle, horses, sheep, goats, meat birds, ducks and turkeys.

The issue of compensation was raised recently with minister within the Ministry of Local Government, Clinton Collymore during a visit to the sub-region but according to NDC chairman, Edwin Joseph "the minister was unable to provide any information on the question." The NDC had sought compensation for damage to streets, dams and infrastructure caused by the flood which covered the land for some two-and-a-half weeks before the rains began on Christmas Eve. The damage then was described as "astronomical".

Flood waters have been an annual horror story for some 8,000 subsistence farmers in the NDC area over the past five to six years.

Among the villages exposed to annual disasters are Union, Trafalgar, Onverwagt, Lovely Lass, Golden Grove, Hopetown and Number 22.

In a repeat of the 1998 inundation, the nightmare of an annual flood revisited hundreds of poor farmers last December leaving once again losses totalling millions of dollars.

The annual flooding has been attributed to the release of irrigation water by the Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary-Agricultural Development Authority (MMA-ADA) from rice lands, in addition to seasonal rainfall.

The drainage systems of all the villages on the West Coast of Berbice are linked to MMA-ADA's facade drain which empties all the water accumulated into the Atlantic Ocean at three points through sluices at D'Edward, Trafalgar and Profit.

However, at Trafalgar the four electrical pumps have been inoperative for more than five years because of poor maintenance. There is also heavy siltation in the facade canal estimated at some five feet on either side of the Trafalgar sluice which combines with the frequent silting up of the outfall channel to inhibit proper drainage in the surrounding areas which are flooded annually.

While those in the low-lying areas blame the MMA-ADA for their losses, officials have denied this over the years saying there are no inter-lot drains in the residential areas to connect to the NDC's drainage system.

However, Joseph, councillors and residents argue that excess water from the rice lands overflowed from the canals into the residential areas.

The authority has maintained that it cannot provide compensation for damage in the residential areas but only in the cultivation areas. The NDC had submitted a list of persons who had been affected in 1998, along with estimates of their losses to the MMA-ADA and the regional administration of Region Five (Mahaica/West Berbice).

The MMA-ADA by this time had already passed the ball to the regional administration asking it "to look into the question of compensation."

Stabroek News understands that the ball has since been passed to the Ministry of Agriculture but no information has been forthcoming from any government source.

NDC officials have argued that since 1998, a number of farmers and areas have benefited from disaster relief and have been compensated in various forms by government and through the national disaster relief fund. "Why then haven't the farmers of these afflicted villages been granted any assistance?" they ask.