Guyana likely in for long dry spell
El Nino watch urged By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
January 7, 2002

Concerns have surfaced as to the effect on certain communities should the current dry weather spell run into the second quarter of this year, Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Water Authority (GUYWA), Karan Singh says.

The areas of concern are in the hinterland, mainly in Regions One, Two, Seven and Eight and Nine, which had seen some improvement since the last El Nino weather phenomenon in 1997/1998. Following that weather aberration, the Guyana Government/World Bank had funded an El Nino Emergency Relief Programme geared to cushion the effects of a long dry spell.

The past quarter has recorded abnormally low rainfall and according to weather predictions this state of affairs could continue into the current quarter with the possibility of an El Nino situation developing. Despite several attempts Stabroek News had been unable to contact the Minister of Agriculture Navin Chandarpal or the Permanent Secretary in that ministry to ascertain what programmes were in place in the agricultural sector to deal with such an eventuality, especially in relation to the two major commercial crops, rice and sugar.

Crops and Livestock Minister, Satyadeow Sawh told Stabroek News that his ministry had begun to receive reports of the weather affecting livestock, but the issue of contingencies would have to be dealt with in the larger scheme of things, which would include the Agriculture Ministry and other agencies.

A source within the Agriculture Ministry told Stabroek News that already the level of the East Demerara and the Boeraserie conservancies had dropped significantly and the ministry should have issued a press release on the situation on Friday.

Region Two

Some ten thousand acres of rice land aback of the Coffee Grove area in Region Two may not be cultivated due to the lack of irrigation water, according to regional vice-chairman Vishnu Samaroo.

Samaroo said that the water level in the DAWA conservancy has dropped considerably, making it difficult for water to get to the land. He said that the prolonged dry spell has contributed quite a lot to the problem.

The vice chairman said that the main canal embankment aback of Coffee Grove was cut so as to help in increasing the supply.

Samaroo said that the Region Two administration was aggressively pursuing all means to supply water to the 35,500 acres of rice land targeted for cultivation.

A pump was also put into operation aback of Better Hope to pump water from the Pomeroon River through the Manicuru canal into the main canal so as to help the farmers of the area.

The Guyana Rice Development Board has also said that a high level of salt content showed up in the canals in the Bounty Hall/Better Success areas and this could further compound the problem.

Rice farmers are being advised not to tamper with D&I structures but to conserve on whatever water is in the fields.

It is however, hoped that things will improve and that the affected farmers will receive irrigation water.

Low rainfall

The Hydrometerological Service of the Agriculture Ministry has advised that water be conserved because of the low rainfall over the last quarter and the continuation of the dry spell for the current quarter. It warned that a watch should be kept for a possible recurrence of El Nino conditions. The December, 2001 rainfall figure was far below what it should have been.

Meanwhile, Singh told Stabroek News in a telephone interview that at present there had been no significant variation of the ground water level on the coastal belt, which extends from Crabwood Creek on the Corentyne River to Charity on the Pomeroon River. However, he said, the situation could change with the extended dry weather.

In any dry weather, he said, consumers tended to use more water and this would impinge on both ground and surface levels. People would use water for flower gardens and cash crops and those closer to the source of the water would fare better than those at the extreme, where the pressure would be lower.

While the residents of Matthew's Ridge in Region One (Barima/Waini) are expected to benefit from a just completed $20 million project, the residents of Port Kaituma, who continue to depend on surface water, may not be as safe as a drop in surface water could pose problems in terms of quality.

Other areas of concern in Region One include Mabaruma Compound and Township, Mabaruma Settlement, Hosororo and Wanaina, which continue to depend on surface water. The topography of the area, characterised by giant boulders, does not allow for the drilling of wells, Singh said.

Under the El Nino programme, wells were proposed for a number of areas in the Upper Mazaruni area in Region Seven. But after drilling it was obvious there was no artesian water available. Those communities, he said, would be at the mercy of the dry weather if it continued beyond the second quarter.

This year, he said, GUYWA will undertake seismic surveys to assess the ground water potential and to see what springs were available in areas where drilling was not feasible.

Areas that depend on surface water, such as Linden and Bartica, which source their supply from the Demerara and Mazaruni rivers respectively, have not seen any drop in the water level. But while there was an abundant supply of surface water, they could also be affected by sedimentation if there was a drop in the water level.

Under the El Nino Emergency Relief Programme, funded through a US$6 million soft loan from the World Bank, a number of areas in Regions One, Two, Seven, Eight and Nine had seen some improvement. The Georgetown Sewerage and Water Commissioners, the Hydrometerological Service and the Drainage and Irrigation Board also benefited from this loan.

Wells Singh said that 80% of communities in Region Nine (Upper Essequibo/Upper Takutu) now have access to some form of ground water, either through hand-dug or drilled wells. He said that while the hand-dug wells were likely to dry up under extreme conditions, the effect might not be as serious with the drilled wells. But he said he was hoping that the dry spell would not impinge seriously on the water supply of these communities. He said that he could not rule out that even drilled well water levels might drop significantly. If this occurred, he said, "we'll have to prepare for real emergencies."

He admitted that GUYWA was still monitoring "the behaviour of the wells" as the traits of the wells dug are not known.

Riverain areas in Mahaica and Mahaicony, such as Little Baiboo and Champagne, which were previously affected, should not suffer as GUYWA was currently laying new pipelines there and residents would benefit from water supplied by artesian wells.

The administration of the Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary-Agricultural Development Authority has warned farmers in published notices to conserve water in the face of the dry weather.