Ministerial drought assessment committee submits preliminary report

Guyana Chronicle
April 18, 2003

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THE Drought Assessment Committee, appointed by President Bharrat Jagdeo earlier this week, has submitted a preliminary report to Cabinet.

The documentation revealed that water level in the major conservancies of Regions Two (Pomeron/Supenaam), Three (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands), Four (Demerara/Mahaica), Five (Mahaica/Berbice) and Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) is extremely low because of the extensive dry season with very little rainfall.

The disclosure was made by Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon at his weekly media briefing yesterday.

He told reporters: "So far, the preliminary reports by the Assessment Committee, on their appearance in the 10 regions, reveal low rainfall, low levels of water in the rivers, creeks and other natural bodies."

The committee, comprising Ministers Harripersaud Nokta, Carolyn Rodrigues, Shaik Baksh and Navin Chandarpal with support from relevant technical and regional officers, is tasked with examining and reporting regularly on the situation as regards the availability of, primarily, potable water and that being used for agricultural and other purposes.

The ministers reported that, due to the present state of water levels on the coastal plain, there has been increasing intrusion of salt water in the savannahs and small amounts of water in shallow wells.

However, so far, the extensive dry season has had little adverse impact on crops and livestock and farmers have been acting judiciously, by delaying planting while indications are that some may not plant until the next crop.

"While the impact has, so far, been minimal, the fact of the matter is that the projection of the onset of rainfall and, particularly, about the magnitude and its duration are not being assured," the report said.

Meanwhile, Luncheon said repairs to the East Demerara Conservancy dam are moving apace, with contractors currently involved in levelling the surface.

They have completed work on about 4,000 feet, he said, pointing out that Cabinet has made funds available to the Commissioner of the Conservancy to acquire more earth moving equipment for intensifying the pace with which four contractors, instead of the original two, are proceeding.

Cabinet has mandated an intense inspection, to be coordinated by Chandarpal, to provide more reassurances that the efforts are moving apace to, more than likely, avoid breaches, Luncheon said.

But he acknowledged that "much more has to be done" to provide a level of comfort, not only to the Commissioner and residents in the areas behind the dam but also to Cabinet and the Administration.

"...we cannot forget the travails that befell those NDCs (Neighbourhood Democratic Councils) on those occasions when breaches occurred in the conservancy dam," Luncheon remarked.

He added that operatives of the National Drainage and Irrigation Board (ND&IB) continue to brief Cabinet regularly.

Emergency remedial work started on the dam last month when several slippages were detected by technical personnel and through reconnaissance by military personnel.

A total of 660 metres (about 2,000 feet) were affected, especially in the Annandale/Shanks (East Coast Demerara) section.

Previously, two contractors began the repair from opposite ends and they have now been joined by two more and every effort is being made to complete the undertaking before the advent of the anticipated May-June rains.

The state of the dam continues to attract Government's attention and allied with that are concerns over the low water level in the conservancy.

ND&IB personnel projected that the job on the dam can be finished before the arrival of the rainy season but took steps to recruit contractors and ensure greater safety of the communities that are more susceptible, should there be a recurrence of breaches, Luncheon stated.

Drought assessment reports from regions
REGION ONE - contamination of the river water at Port Kaituma is now creating a difficulty for residents at a time when the river water is low and not fast-flowing, due to the lack of rains.

Three days ago, there was rainfall, but the amount of water was not significant enough to impact on the level of the water. Some waterway means of travelling are now cut off.

REGION TWO - residents in the Lower Pomeroon area up to Wakapau are complaining of salt water in the river. At the moment, there is no serious effect on the livestock industry in Region Two, but the recent cry of rabies in Region Two proved negative after blood samples testing in Trinidad.

REGION THREE - the Boerasirie water conservancy is at a very low level with the result that two irrigation pumps are working full time to boost the water level to satisfy the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) and cash-crop farmers in Region Three. One hundred gallons of diesel are consumed per day.

Grass plots in Region Three are drying up with the result that cattle farmers are cutting grass from trenches to feed animals, but that will not last for more than three weeks, after which farmers will find it difficult or very expensive to feed animals.

REGION FOUR - the current frequent power outages have been affecting potable water supply to residents of the region, including the capital city of Georgetown. The East Demerara Water Conservancy is now low and is compounded with several areas of weak high-level dam, which are now being re-assured before the expected May/June rain.

Continued dry weather beyond early May 2003 will see severe hardships on farmers in the Cane Grove area, especially where both rice and other crops farmers would suffer.

REGION FIVE - the Mahaicony/Abary area pump is non-functional due to a power supply problem. In the meantime, Guyana Water Inc. is providing water to residents by tender using two 400 gallon water tanks from the Region Five Administration.

Residents of Moraikobai are seriously affected due to the very low level of the Mahaicony River water in the area. The village has a solar-powered water pump which offers limited relief.

Cattle in Mahaicony and Abary River areas are shortly to feel the harsh effects of the drought if the rain does not come early. Livestock in the Foulis area are now affected by salt water in the system, due to breaches in the sea defence.

Salt water in the lower Mahaicony and Mahaica River is becoming problematic for residents. Loggers at Moraikobai now transport lumber over longer distances over land to reach river water to transport lumber to the Mahaicony coastal market.

REGION SIX - it was reported on April 15, 2003 that salt water is now in the area of Black Bush Polder and Manarabisi irrigation pump stations, but it is not clear whether GUYSUCO's pump station area at the back of Skeldon Estate is also affected.

Livestock farming which spans the entire East Berbice area has so far not been seriously affected, but cattle in the Manarabisi pasture will be the first to suffer if the dry spell continues beyond the end of April.

Potable water for domestic use has been problematic over a long period, not because of the weather, but mostly due to power outages in Region Six.

REGION SEVEN - the natural spring with pump at Four Miles, Bartica is in operation, but where it took 12 hours to fill the reservoir, it now takes 20 hours to fill before pumping. Waramadong Residential School has a system for maintaining constant water supply.

Villagers, however, have to go to the river where the water level is low. Because of the low level of the river, water transport to Paruima, Imbaimadai, and Phillipai are now cut off. Only air transport is possible.

REGION EIGHT - Three days ago there was some rainfall in the North Pakaraimas, but not significant enough to impact the water levels.

Crops, which are of subsistence farming, are now being affected.

The natural spring at Kurukubaru has since had a reduction in the flow of water. Residents at Mahdia have no reliable supply of water since Guyana Water Inc. was not allowed to pump polluted water into the distribution lines. Residents use water from two creeks, which are not greatly affected while Region Eight Administration transports water by tender to the hilltop. Land mining is greatly affected, due to the lack of water inland at the pits for mining.

REGION NINE - The dry weather in Region Nine has reportedly affected cassava crops in the South where cassava plants are withering and have reduced root sizes. A report has also been lodged about caterpillar infestation on cassava plants in South Rupununi and Kumu in Central Rupununi.

Water from the Takatu River is no longer used for domestic purposes in Lethem because of sewage disposal in the river upstream at Lethem near the Brazilian town of Bon Fim.

Residents of Lethem are supplied with water from the lone Culvert City pump, which is inadequate. Plans are in place to link the Tabatinga well with the Culvert City well to boost the flow of water to residents.

The windmill at Awaruwaunawa is not operational. Residents obtain water from a dug-out well and from the creek, which is not dry.

REGION TEN - Linden area has been without potable water due to the absence of electricity to run the motors, which turn the pumps. The absence of rainfall, which has caused the creeks to run low, and the stagnant water, compounds the water situation.

Because of lack of electricity and water, patients from the hospital had to be referred to other health facilities.

Lack of water and electricity resulted in residents protesting and blocking the main steel bridge across the Demerara River. Blocking of the bridge resulted in greatly reduced activities between the city and Region Nine and other areas of Regions Seven, Eight and Ten. Omai Gold Mines Company had also been forced to shut down operations because of fuel shortage.

Ituni area is also without electricity and water. Residents have to go downhill to fetch water in containers. At Kwakwani, the situation is better, but occasional power outages result in a shortage in the lines.

The Berbice River water is also running low, which will shortly make it impossible for timber barges to go to Kwakwani and further up river to transport forest products. (GOVERNMENT INFORMATION AGENCY)

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