Emergency measures underway to battle flooding - Sawh
$16M for Region Six By Oscar P. Clarke and Daniel DaCosta
Stabroek News
June 15, 2002

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Crops Minister Satyadeow Sawh yesterday assured that emergency measures are being implemented to minimise flood damage to farming and other communities across the country as heavy rainfall wreaks havoc.

Among the measures are the cleaning of canals and outfalls of silt and weeds and the reactivation of sluices in some areas. According to the minister, efforts are also underway to assess the flooding with a view to offering help to affected farmers.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Sawh, who along with Local Government Minister, Harripersaud Nokta, visited several affected areas in Regions Four (Demerara/ Mahaica) and Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) on Wednesday, said that Region Five (Mahaica/West Berbice), parts of Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam), Region Three (Essequibo Islands/West Demerara), and some areas in Region Ten (Upper Demerara/Upper Berbice) were also under water and this was being investigated by regional authorities. The minister was flanked by Chairman of the National Drainage and Irrigation Board (NDIB), Ravi Narine and General Manager of the Mahaica/ Mahaicony/Abary (MMA) project, Roy Singh.

Drainage capacity

According to the minister, excessive rainfall over the last couple of weeks has seen water being dropped in areas where the drainage capacity has been outstripped.

Sawh identified several areas where immediate works were underway. Among the areas identified were canals at Black Bush Polder for which machines will have to be employed especially in the feeder canals, Eversham and Number 19 Village on the Berbice coast and the installation of a koker box at Highbury on the East Bank Berbice. Work on the Number 19 Village canal is expected to be undertaken by the Guyana Sugar Corporation, which has been contracted to do it.

He said that work had also started at Belfield, East Coast Demerara, to reactivate an inactive sluice. A visit to the site yesterday saw a mobile pump in operation depositing the water over the seawall but the koker door had not been raised. Questioned about it, a worker said that there was a defect in the door and once raised there was no certainty of it being lowered again.

ND&IB head Narine said he estimated that the current work costing some $45 million will see some of the kinks in the country’s drainage system ironed out.

These works were not part of the existing year’s programme. He did not see need for additional funds for his department since most of the finance being used on the current works was garnered through savings made on executed works to date.

NDCs could do more

On the issue of maintenance of canals and outfalls, Sawh stated that NDCs could do much more in terms of preventative action. He highlighted a situation he observed in Rose Hall during his visit where an irrigator pump was performing the reverse function to what it was expected to do. He said that a system of supervision needed to be instituted with the possibility of year-round cleaning to ensure better drainage and irrigation facilities.

Narine subscribed to this, stressing that it was the responsibility of the RDCs to maintain drainage outflows as it was budgeted for under regional development. However, he noted that there were problems with rate collection. For the canals to remain clean, he added, users needed to pay rates. He also suggested the possibility of adopting the GUYSUCO model where maintenance is carried out year round.

On the issue of pumping water from the East Demerara Conservancy into the Mahaicony Creek, Narine said that that facility had to operate at a safe level of storage and any excess had to be taken out at specific discharge points. The present system in place is geared to accommodate between one to 1.5 inches of rainfall per day. Whenever this was exceeded, water on the land took longer to evaporate.

Questioned on the likelihood of preparing for such situations given their regularity, the minister said that it would not be easy since no one could readily predict with absolute certainty how much rainfall there would be or whether there would be a drought. He pointed to the uncertainty of the world weather patterns.

Meanwhile, government has allocated $16 million for emergency works across Region Six (East Berbice/ Corentyne) in the wake of the widespread flooding.

Nokta, addressing the media at State House in New Amsterdam on Thursday, said the works have already begun in most of the areas while others are expected to commence shortly. According to Minister the region experienced some seven and one-half inches of rainfall over five days placing a severe strain on the drainage system.

Region Six is said to be one of the worst affected in the country. Among the areas inundated over the past week are: Black Bush Polder, Crabwood Creek, East Bank Berbice, Manchester, Whim, Letter Kenny, Bloomfield, Lancaster, Ulverston, Alness 21 and 22, Hogstye, Liverpool, Fyrish, Seawell, Number 19, Rose Hall Town and Kilcoy.

Black Bush Polder

According to Chairman of the Black Bush Polder NDC, Thakur Persaud “there is still a lot of water in the Polder even though the level has dropped by some two inches over recent days. Farmers,” he said “have lost tremendously with most of their cash crops damaged while a lot of rice is under water.” Farmers estimate their losses at millions of dollars. The entire Polder which includes four districts: Mibicuri, Johanna, Yakusari and Lesbeholden consists of some 24,000 acres of agricultural lands.

A source from the Hogstye/Lancaster NDC told Stabroek News that the eight villages within its jurisdiction have been severely affected by flood waters. Yesterday there was more that six inches of water in the residential and cultivation areas. The NDC areas comprise some 8,000 acres of farm and rice lands. The roadside market at Whim was also forced to close yesterday because of flood waters which rose overnight.

The Hogstye/Lancaster NDC source said residents have lost not only cash crops but also livestock including poultry, sheep and goats. “Unfortunately we have not heard any one mention anything about flood relief despite the fact that residents and farmers in the area have suffered losses totalling millions of dollars and even though two minister were in the region this week. There is need for a long term solution to this perennial problem and not for stop-gap measures” the source said.

Works, Nokta said are underway at Joppa outfall while the Joppa main drain was being excavated in Black Bush. The Eversham and Borlam outfalls are being excavated: the seawall outfall is being dug by Guysuco; while breaches are being sealed at Crabwood Creek and the sluice door at Eversham is being repaired.

On the East Bank where farmers have lost acres of cash crops and the rice crop is being threatened, a drainage box is to be installed at Highbury. Nokta issued a call to the 18 NDCs and residents in the region to ensure that their internal drains are kept clean to ensure speedy drainage of any excess water.

“Over the past four years”, he said, “the Government has spent some $687 million on capital works in the region with $67 million earmarked this year for drainage and irrigation.”

Cane under water

Guysuco’s Regional Manager, J.B.Raghurai told Stabroek News yesterday that approximately 20 percent of the corporation’s cane in the low-lying areas was under some 2-3 feet of water. The Albion/Port Mourant area he said had been

mostly affected over the past five days but Rose Hall “was a little better”.

According to Raghurai, the Corporation’s drainage system is only geared to drain some 1.5 inches of water per day and could not handle the volume of water that was dumped on the land over the past few days, he was however hopeful that if there was no rain over the next 48 hours the situation will improve significantly since “our pumps are working around-the-clock to drain our fields”.

According to Nokta the region’s 18 NDCs have already received their annual $3 million subventions and have been granted an additional $1 million each for drainage and irrigation works this year. Reports coming out of the West Coast of Berbice also indicate that there is widespread flooding with farmers faced with heavy losses.

Umar Khan a farmer of Hogstye with experience in the engineering field told this newspaper that apart from the rainfall, excess water from Black Bush was also flowing into the front lands in the Hogstye/Lancaster area. According to Khan who worked on the construction of the Canje River Bridge as a Superintendent, eight irrigation boxes that were installed to regulate water into the front lands from Black Bush were destroyed and the dams cut allowing unregulated water into front lands. He also pointed out that the irregular planting pattern in the Polder contributes to the saturation of the land all year round. “Farmers plant different plots at different times almost all year round which requires the land to be flooded for cultivation purposes.

As a result when it rains the land is unable to absorb any water since it is already saturated and flooding takes place in the surrounding areas.”

Khan who also worked as a general foreman on the Montrose to Plaisance Seawall project is also calling for the appointment of a Civil Engineer in the region to ensure that works are efficiently executed and that value is obtained for money spent.

He is of the view that the entire drainage and irrigation system in the region is in need of major rehabilitation. “This will cost in the vicinity of $115 million encompassing a 12-month period. This is the only way this age-old problem will be resolved but it must be executed by professional civil engineers.