Flooding in the city
May 25, 2004
Next to the notorious cancellation of international cricket matches at Bourda, the annual cycle of flooding is probably the most memorable characteristic of rainfall patterns in Georgetown. But why must schoolyards, cricket grounds, business places, bottom-houses and streets be flooded every time there are a few hours of showers?
After all, precipitation is predictably heaviest in the December-January and May-June-July rainy seasons. Given the equally predictable consequences, especially the high cost of damage, delays, absence from school and work, deprivation of use of facilities and the spread of water-borne infectious disease, not to mention missed cricket matches, it would have been expected that some sort of urban counter-flooding scheme could be put in place. No matter what the short-term expense, the long-term benefits for production, education and recreation would be incalculable.
Little has happened to correct the flooding problem although its causes must be apparent to the Central Government, the Georgetown Mayor and City Council and, of course, the long-suffering citizens.
It is well known that Georgetown is flat and not easily drained; receives an average of 230-250 mm of rainfall annually; lies a couple of metres beneath sea level; and is located at the estuary of the Demerara where the outfall channels are periodically blocked by 'sling mud' which constantly moves along the coastline. Georgetown was built on the grid-like matrix of its old sugar plantations and has about 1,300 km of drainage canals which are discharged through these outfall channels and, it may be true to say, this network is the city's arterial system. Simply, blocked arteries cause paralysis of the system and, the longer rain falls, the greater is the likelihood of flooding.
Drainage of much of Georgetown east of Sheriff Street is dependent on the mechanical pumps at Liliendaal. Western Georgetown still depends heavily on 'gravity' drainage through the canals and kokers. Over the years, however, the maintenance of the twelve vital outfalls has faltered, giving the City Council an excuse to blame others for its own negligence. The entire urban population has been blamed for throwing garbage and other debris into the canals while the Central Government is blamed for inadequate funding. The City seems reluctant to accept that it has responsibility for the repetitive flooding.
Hardly any canals have concrete walls and as a result, there is continuous erosion of the banks and the growth of vegetation such as the formidable moko-moko, water hyacinth and other weeds. It is difficult to keep the canals clean and clear.
Admittedly, the City's canal system has become a victim of urbanisation and modernisation. Popula-tion pressure; squatter settlements; spreading slums; poor garbage collection; deliberate filling-in of canals to facilitate building; and extensive use of concrete surfaces in yards and public places, have also reduced the number of canals, the capacity of the land to absorb water and the volume of those remaining to store or remove excess rainwater.
In the short term, the City may need to consider reinforcing the walls of its main canals, installing more pumps, and ensuring that the outfalls are kept clear and the kokers are working. This much is necessary if Johnny is to get to school on time and Bourda is to be kept free from flooding.
In the editorial of May 25, 2004 captioned "Flooding in the city", it was stated that the annual rainfall averaged 230-250mm when in fact it should have read 230 -250 cm. We regret the error.