Floods return to plague West Berbice villages

By Daniel DaCosta
Stabroek News
December 21, 1999

Thousands of West Berbicians are likely to spend yet another festive season counting losses and fearful of an outbreak of water-borne diseases as flood waters this past week covered several villages within the Naarstigheid/Union neighbourhood democratic council (NDC) area.

In a repeat of last December's floods, this perennial watery nightmare has again left hundreds of poor farmers devastated, angry and in a state of hopelessness. Losses are estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The cause then and now is the same - the release of irrigation water by the Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary-Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA) accompanied by seasonal rainfall early last week. The areas affected are: Hopetown, Bel Air, Bush Lot, Golden Grove, Lovely Lass, Number 30, Union and Trafalgar. Naarstigheid/Union NDC's chairman Edwin Joseph told Stabroek News on Sunday "there is nothing we can do. It is the MMA/ADA which must activate its drainage pumps at No. 29 to facilitate the draining of these villages." According to villagers the affected areas have been under water for the past nine days.

When Stabroek News visited the area on Sunday, bottom houses, access streets and dams, bridges, latrines, kitchen gardens, school buildings, churches and playfields were under water.

On Friday last the authority moved two portable pumps to the No. 29 two-door sluice to assist in draining the villages. However, residents pointed to the fact that while the pumps had been mobilised the level of the water had not dropped up to Sunday even though there was a lull in rainfall over the week-end. Some pointed to the four inoperable electrical pumps at the main No. 29 sluice which have been idle for several years. Others referred to the silted-up outfall channel which has contributed to the difficulties encountered in effectively draining the area. "The two mobile pumps are incapable of solving the problem faced by residents," said one farmer.

According to Norman Grant, a councillor, the authority closed the sluices on Thursday after releasing the water from the conservancy for the rice farmers. "After the water is released, there is no way the authority could control the volume of water or ensure it is efficiency drained through the existing network and therefore every year these villages will flood," he said. Several residents complained, like last December of losing sheep, goats, poultry and cash crops. Alexander James of Number 30 village said "I have lost 15 chickens, six ducks and eight fowls. The pens are under water, my latrine is under water, the plants in my garden have all withered and died including several coconut plants. If you check every home in this village you will hear the same story," he told this newspaper.

According to James, several guests to a wedding who travelled from Suriname returned home yesterday because of the conditions and their inability to access the latrines which were under water. Everywhere faeces from latrines and pens could be seen floating as innocent children played gleefully in the smelly conditions oblivious to the health hazards at stake.

NDC chairman Edwin Joseph disclosed that his council had spent some $2.3 million this year on drainage works and intends to expend another $1.7 million before year-end on additional drainage works. He was however quick to point out that "the money available to the NDC is insufficient to execute the magnitude of work required." Seventy-one-year-old Randolph Archibald, a subsistence farmer of Golden Grove was almost moved to tears as he related how his entire garden which was his livelihood had been destroyed by the flood waters. "I have no money to buy any food, the garden took care of me, my wife and grandchildren, now we have nothing" he lamented.

Last December a similar disaster devastated the West Berbice village resulting in damages totalling millions of dollars. Then the NDC and those affected had sought compensation from the MMA/ADA and the government, but to no avail. Now twelve months later the disaster has again caused similar suffering even as villagers were beginning to rebuild. Whether any assistance would be granted this time around is anybody's guess but President Bharrat Jagdeo is being called upon to visit the area and to determine what assistance government can provide to these disaster areas.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples