A water-logged city
Stabroek News
June 6, 2003

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There is nothing more miserable than Georgetown on a rainy day. All that filthy water sloshing around the sidewalks and the roadways; Bourda Market rising out of the stagnant lagoon for all the world like a floating market in South-east Asia; the pervasive smell of effluent from the drains which has mingled with the flood; and the disturbing sight (to adults, that is) of children splashing barefoot along the street in the sometimes foetid waters. Is this a capital city, or is it a cesspool?

It is not as if years ago parts of Georgetown did not flood from time to time. But that required some pretty relentless precipitation coinciding with a high tide. Once the kokers were opened again, the floodwaters would dutifully recede. But now it doesnít seem to matter if the kokers are open or closed (does anyone open and close kokers any more in any case?), and all it takes is one average tropical rainstorm to convince everyone that they are living in the middle of a lake.

Are we doomed forever to this hydraulic existence every rainy season? Is there no authority - governmental or municipal - which can deliver us from this water-logged half-life? Where are the Honourable Minister of Local Government and his Honourable Assistant, the Minister within the Ministry of Local Government? Just what are they doing? And where do they live? On a hill, perhaps? Do their yards or bottom flats never flood? Do they never have to step out of their air-conditioned Prados into a pool, or is it that their employees, Walter Ralegh style, conspire to ensure that they never get their feet wet?

Does it not disturb Minister Nokta, that over the extended period during which he has held the local government portfolio, the flooding situation in the nationís capital has steadily deteriorated? How can the administration talk about improving the quality of life for all, if a significant proportion of the citizenry has to wade through (sometimes contaminated) water every time it rains? How can it talk about encouraging tourism? How can it talk about putting Georgetown on the World Heritage list? After all these years of lack of interest, are we to conclude that it has decided to write the city off to the elements?

Well of course, Minister Nokta (not without a measure of justification) will point an accusing finger in the direction of Father Scolesí aesthetic structure on Avenue of the Republic. It is not that there havenít been mutterings emanating from City Hall from time to time on the subject of drainage. We have heard about a new pump, about the cleaning of drains and about the clearing of outfalls. Deputy Mayor Robert Williams in his March budget presentation, for example, announced the desilting of an impressive number of canals and drains this year. However, no sum was quoted publicly as having been set aside for this exercise, and in any case, a part of the problem is ongoing maintenance of the entire drainage system, which requires more than just the intermittent clean-up campaigns which we have at present.

The truth of the matter is that the head of the municipality is into a spiritual mode, hoping for the kind of moral revival at an individual level which would inspire people not to dump waste in the alleyways, not to clog up the trenches and canals, not to block the outfalls, and not to concrete over their parapets in defiance of the city by-laws. That the householders of the capital have not responded to his call should not come as a surprise. Less transcendentally inclined than their Mayor, most residents see the solution as lying in a more earth-bound approach - including regular desilting, etc, and the enforcement of the by-laws.

One doesnít have to be a civil engineer to recognize that Georgetown has expanded dramatically in recent years, increasing the volume of water which has to be drained off. Furthermore, even the untrained eye can recognize that the absorptive capacity of the city has been considerably reduced by residents and businesses concreting over their yards and parapets, forcing a great deal of excess water which formerly leached into the soil, into the drains.

Is it really too much to ask that His Worship the Mayor and the Honourable Minister co-operate to commission some comprehensive study from our local engineers which would look at the problem in its larger aspect and tell us exactly what needs to be done to place Greater Georgetown above the water line again - at least most of the time. Once we know what the options are for drainage, then the authorities can cast around for ways and means - and money if necessary - to implement any recommendations which the engineers put forward.

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