CDC urged to speed up action

By Andrew Richards
Stabroek News
March 26, 1998

As efforts continue to help the residents of the El Nino ravaged Rupununi, the regional administration is calling on the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) to act swifter to address the situation before the crisis worsens.

Speaking at a press conference hosted by The United Force (TUF) yesterday, Region Nine's (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo) Vice Chairman, Vincent Henry, said the impression was that CDC was "now getting [its] house in order".

Also at the briefing were TUF leader, Manzoor Nadir; Captain of Santa Rosa, John Atkinson; Captain of Waramuri, David Newsum; and TUF's Region One councillor, Jerome Jarvis.

Henry said he hoped that there would not be too much bureaucracy to delay government's relief drive.

He told reporters that he had supplied the necessary statistics to the CDC and these would be used as a yardstick to send in relief to Region Nine. Henry said he met Minister of Regional Development, Harripersaud Nokta, on Tuesday and was assured that government saw the situation as serious and would take appropriate steps to help.

Henry is in Georgetown on behalf of Region Nine's El Nino Relief Committee to update the relevant agencies of the effects on the region and to solicit their assistance.

The vice chairman appealed to the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to play a more significant role to develop the region's agricultural resources.

He suggested that the two organisations carry out an assessment of the area and come up with a plan to launch agricultural programmes.

"We will be able to stand on our own after that," Henry stated.

He said Brazil had corn seedlings and cassava sticks available which mature in two and three months respectively and if they could be made accessible through the WFP or IICA this would augur well for the region.

Henry also said that the Rupununi had ideal conditions to raise livestock. He said the communities would benefit greatly if expert advice could be given in this regard so that food and economic bases could be established to benefit the people.

The vice chairman said help had been received from a number of agencies including SIMAP, Food for the Poor and the Beacon Foundation. He pointed out, though, that the relief supplies should be sent on a more regular basis since those received lasted the families only about four days.

He said that Nokta had advised him to meet with the CDC, which is mandated to coordinate a national response to the effects of El Nino.

Food and water have become scarce in the region and health problems have arisen since the phenomenon took effect last year.

Henry said the cassava plants are not maturing properly and the yield has diminished severely. According to him, the normal 1,000 lbs plot now yields 300 lbs.

"The situation is getting from bad to worse," he said.

The vice chairman said the water level in the region had dropped considerably and villagers have to dig deeper wells for water.

In the South Pakaraimas the area was exceedingly dry, he said.

Nadir said the administration will be working together with central government and the related non-governmental organisations to coordinate the relief drive. Region Nine's administration is TUF controlled.

The Santa Rosa captain said the situation in his area, located in Region One, was not as serious as in Region Nine. But he said that if prevailing conditions continued for the next two months, then residents will begin to suffer greatly.

Atkinson said the shop owners would take in foodstuff from Charity and this would upkeep the villagers. He stated that most of them, however, depend on cassava which is their staple diet but this is not in abundance.

Wilson said the villagers at Waramuri have to contend with the salt water that is invading the area from the Waini River and the Atlantic Ocean.

He said the village is seeking assistance to acquire hand pumps so that fresh water could be accessed.