Floods -- natural disaster or man-propelled hazard? Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
June 12, 2004

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FLOODS have been added to the parody of issues that have taken center stage in Guyanese politics.
PNC/R leader Robert Corbin on May 16 visited Fyrish/Gibraltar and several other areas affected by flooding. Bleeding with anger after Mr. Corbin's visit, Fyrish/Gibraltar residents damaged or destroyed infrastructure in their area two weeks later -- protest action Mr. Corbin told reporters on Thursday the villagers were forced to resort to, in order to get the action of the government.

A week ago Justice For All leader C.N. Sharma took the cameras of Channel Six to Diamond, and for days afterwards re-aired the video as he criticized the government for doing little or nothing to avert flooding and spare residents the terrible conditions that result from heavy, seasonal rainfalls.

Critics argue that it was unthinkable of the Opposition not to capitalize on the sufferings of people to reiterate the electorate's choice of the PPP/Civic as being contrary to their best interests.

But floods and the watery conditions that remain on the land for days after the rainy season ends are anything but easy to cope with. Disease, sickness and death could follow, as could the loss of farm crops, poultry and even livestock.

Some countries have reported damaged or destroyed buildings and vehicles, uprooted trees causing power and utility outages, drowning -- especially people trapped in cars, contamination of drinking water, and the dispersion of hazardous materials.

If governments know all this, why, then, does flooding occur and why does it become such a constant agony? Is flooding avoidable or is it inevitable? Are floods a natural disaster or a man-propelled harard?

Floods result from several causative factors, including stream waters escaping from a watercourse and running over lands outside their normal and overflow channels, heavy prolonged rainfall from large-scale storms or a series of storms or from a near-stationary or slow-moving thunderstorm complex, saturated soil conditions from previous rainfall, or high existing river flows, again from previous rainfall events.

Experts say flooding, whether along rivers and streams, or from rainfall saturating water-worn land, is both natural and inevitable. It occurs in the developed world which has the money, equipment and human resource capability to exert flood control, and moreso in the developing world, where none of those resources is so readily available.

Although Guyana has two wet seasons, flooding often occurs when, in addition to the regular, seasonal rains that considerably inundate land and roads and overflow river banks, we experience torrential rains from the "tail end" of hurricanes or tropical systems.

Guyana is particularly vulnerable to excessive rainfall because its flat coastal, clayey belt, that narrow strip of land that stretches 425 kilometers between the borders of Venezuela and Suriname, lies about 4.5 feet below sea level. And the coastland is where 90 percent of the country's population live and on which most of its agricultural activity occurs. But even though the coastland is subjected to flooding and erosion, the rainy season also creates havoc in highland areas in the Mazaruni and the Rupununi.

In the U.S., where flooding takes place ever so often, it is estimated that natural hazards cost insurance companies about US$1 billion per week.

We've said nothing of the tens of millions of dollars that are being spent each year on the essential maintenance of drainage and irrigation infrastructure and on improving canal facade management, or of the heavy siltation from the Amazon River and other tributaries that slows water flow.

Suffice to say that an understanding of Guyana's physical conditions, so far as water absorption is concerned, is as important as bemoaning the situation that results from flooding.