What should we do in the face of rising sea levels?

Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
November 19, 2000

By chance I tuned into the BBC on Sunday night and discovered that an international conference on Climate Change was taking place in Amsterdam at the time. It seemed that a concert had been arranged by persons interested in the topic but owing to heavy showers the venue of the concert had to be changed.

What attracted my attention was the tearful voice of a person from Hawaii who bemoaned the fact that his beautiful homeland, a paradise, would be taken over by the rising waters during his lifetime.

What will be, will be. We here in Guyana were reminded by the front page headline in the Guyana Chronicle of November 3rd that rising waters threaten our existence on the greater part of the coastlands of our country. "Scientists ponder effects of rising sea on Guyana coast" was the headline for a report on a workshop held at the Institute of Applied Science and Technology, University of Guyana to discuss the implications for Guyana should the rising waters overwhelm us.

The study is being done for the Government of Guyana by the Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change (CPACC) in collaboration with the section of Caribbean Meteorological Institute (CMI) based in Barbados.

It is projected that over the next 20 years there will be a .2 metre rise in sea level. As Guyana is already 2.4 metres below sea level this could well be disastrous for those who live on the coastland.

The workshop came up with two options:

(1) relocating the coastal settlements, including the towns of Georgetown and New Amsterdam, deeper inland and on higher lands;

(2) waging a relentless battle against the sea by pumping large sums of money into strengthening and building dykes much higher, and building sluices to control intake and outflow of water from the rivers.

There is a desire to sensitise consumers on these concerns. This is not only a government problem. All of us who reside on the coastland have a stake in the outcome and must begin to consider the possibilities from now. Two years ago we were being told that the disaster would occur in 20 years: today we are still being told that disaster looms 20 years from now.

M. Vyfhuis in a letter to the Guyana Chronicle supported a shift of the capital further inland. A contributor who prefers to be nameless expressed the hope that the government does not take the recommendation of the workshop or the findings of the CMI impact analysis to review their development programmes on the coast and instead focus more on hinterland development.

Consumers must be involved when decisions on these matters are being taken. If the capital is to be moved will a new town be built as in the case of Brasilia? Will Guyanese hereafter be living in rabbits' warrens and not in homes with garden space? What assistance will flow from the developed world and elsewhere? I have been told that in Boa Vista, Brazil, plots of land are being offered to skilled Guyanese with a promise that houses will be built on the plots if they migrate.

There are many considerations and many problems that will arise. Consumers have to be prepared for change. They must shed their apathy.

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