Flood relief inadequate
-Black Bush farmers tell Sawh
Region Six administration flayed
Stabroek News
June 8, 2002

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Black Bush farmers have complained that the level of relief set aside by the government for recent flood damage is inadequate and the Region Six Administration came in for criticism for not doing more to prevent the inundation

Over the last weekend, four government ministers visited flood-hit Black Bush Polder and held meetings with farmers in various areas.

On Friday last, Minister of Fisheries, Other Crops and Livestock, Satyadeow Sawh held a meeting with about twenty farmers at the Lesbeholden Primary School. The meeting lasted more that two hours and the minister listened to the problems as they were poured out by the farmers present. He assured them that the government is fully aware of the problems facing farmers in Black Bush but "it is not that the government does not want change but the problem is finding the right people" for the job. He said that about three weeks after the flood started in Black Bush, the Region Six administration reported that "all was well" in Berbice. At this point he said that there is need to look at the whole reporting structure in Region Six.

One of the farmers present pointed out that the government should not always be blamed for the ineptitude of officers in the regional administration. Sawh lamented that some jobs were given to "party stalwarts" and asserted that the government needed to look beyond "party stalwarts". He added that the government should put "people who can deliver the goods".

The minister agreed with the farmers that the extent of the present flooding could have been avoided if the Region Six Administration had done its job properly. He hinted that the whole drainage and irrigation body needs to be restructured, and this will be done shortly, adding that if those in positions cannot do their jobs, then "heads will roll".

In order to make the Black Bush Polder area more viable as a business community, Sawh stressed the need for diversification into poultry and fish farming. However, the farmers pointed out that such ventures may be impossible in the short-term since they lack financial resources and the technical know-how. They added that borrowing from the commercial banks and IPED is normally done at relatively high interest rates.

Sawh told the farmers that Cabinet has approved $3 million in relief for East Berbice farmers, from Mara to Crabwood Creek. This compensation will be based on the assessment submitted to a committee set up nearly a month ago by the said minister to assess the Berbice flood damage. This committee comprises the Vice- Chairman of Region Six, Kadim Bacchus, RDC members Jaffarally and Zulfikar Mustapha, Black Bush NDC Chairman, Suresh Nandlall and Agriculture Officer Inderjeet Jeffrey.

However, the majority of the farmers in Black Bush Polder said that they were unaware of the existence of such a committee. Rice farmer and businessman, Sorjoodin Joewdan of 91, Yakusari North said that he was not aware of such a committee and that his losses amounted to over $2 million. He further added that the $3 million flood relief for the entire Berbice is totally inadequate to even deal with the Black Bush situation.

Bhumanand Harilall, a cash crop farmer of Johanna North, who sustained heavy losses, also claimed that he never heard of this relief committee. He said that "they (the government) doing their own thing, they really don't advertise for farmers to attend". He was among 24 other farmers who attended a meeting held by Minister in the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Bibi Shadick last Saturday at the Yakusari primary school.

At the meeting, he said the farmers were accused of being lazy and blamed for not cleaning the trenches and canals in the area. At the conclusion of her meeting the minister gave 16 flood relief forms to Sabitree Samlall of Yakusari South to distribute to farmers in Yakusari. Samlall is the head of the Women's Group in that area. Harilall said that three days later he still could not uplift such a form. Samlall told this newspaper that all the forms were distributed and the number was inadequate.

These forms, apart from being in short supply, were unheard of by a lot of the farmers in the Black Bush area. Motichand Laloo of 38 Yakusari South said that there were over 300 affected farmers in Yakusari alone and many did not know about the meeting at the Yakusari Primary School much less about the forms.

He also was not aware of the committee.

However, Bishramnauth Raghunauth, a Canteen Operator said that a notice was posted by the Black Bush NDC on the wall of his canteen situated at the Yakusari market to inform residents about a meeting to be held by the Berbice Flood Damage Committee. He said that the meeting was poorly attended since many farmers, apart from not knowing to read, did not visit his canteen so they were not aware of the meeting.

When contacted, the Chairman of the NDC, Nandlall, agreed that there is a problem in disseminating information in Black Bush. However, he could not say anything about the progress of the committee of which he is a member, neither could he say how many farmers were met by this committee. He said that he was not actually involved in the collection of data. This, he said, was done by the Agriculture Officer Jeffrey. The NDC does not have a copy of any list compiled by Jeffrey. Jeffrey could not be reached for a comment on this. Both the Chairman and the Overseer further added that they were also unaware of the distribution of any flood relief forms. The Overseer expressed her disappointment that her office was overlooked as a medium of such distribution. The NDC office, she added, should have been the monitor for the entire relief operation.

The farmers however thought differently. They were of the opinion that a committee to undertake any flood relief should at least comprise farmers from all four polders.

Sawh also expressed the opinion that there is a need to establish a "high level task force committee" in the Black Bush area.

Many residents in the flood-hit area questioned why President Bharrat Jagdeo did not visit the area since he was in Berbice holding a Cabinet session, opening schools and attending meetings elsewhere. Sawh said that the President had a very tight schedule and as a result could not make it "but the President's heart is with the people of Black Bush."