A wake-up call
Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
February 13, 2005

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One is tempted to ask whether in the history of the region so many persons have had to live under sub- human conditions such as now exist on the East Coast Demerara, Guyana. Can you pause for a minute and imagine yourself living day in and day out in a house flooded with contaminated water that is knee high? You have moved your stove, television set and smaller items to a dry position, your bed is threatened, the underside is wet but plastic material and dry sheets make it usable. It remains the only dry place for you to sit or lie. If you have a pet dog, the dog must share the bed with you.

It is terrible even to think of it much less to experience such conditions for three weeks and more. Sewage from pit latrines or septic tanks is mixed in the water, animals have died and are festering in the water. The toilet bowl is under water. There is no water flowing from the tap but you may manage to collect some rainwater for drinking purposes.

Persons who have had to live through these conditions are traumatised. At the sign of rain clouds they are devastated. Will there be no end to this? Relief has been organised to homes under flood but, from reports, it was haphazard. There is not much experience in good management, so what could we expect?

For some persons there is now some measure of relief as water in homes and yards has receded. But there is the cleaning to be done and now there is the fear of having contracted leptospirosis, or dengue, or tuberculosis or some other disease. Athlete's Foot should be treated immediately and the areas between the toes kept dry after bathing, or wading through water.

It would be interesting to learn at this time what steps are taken in Venice for human waste disposal and for provision of safe drinking water. We show little concern about these matters until we ourselves are touched. There have been floods in the United Kingdom and in the United States but we have shown little interest in the effects they had on people. There is the loss of furniture, cars and household effects, but the real misery is the sub-human living conditions.

The authorities keep impressing on us that the unusually heavy rainfall is reponsible for the floods. It is impossible to accept this as the only reason when we saw how swiftly the main sections of Georgetown disposed of unwanted water. Certainly the disposal of household garbage into trenches contributed to flooding in some areas. Even in areas where one would expect more responsible behaviour this method of disposing of garbage was prevalent. It is hoped that a lesson has been learnt and that we will no longer hear the phrase "This is Guyana" indicating that anything goes in Guyana.

The experience of flooded homes has left persons traumatised and fearful of a second experience. True enough, when it rained on Monday January 17, and Tuesday January 18, with grey skies overhead and no sign of the sun, there was a fearful feeling that the rainfall would never end. There was also the troublesome fear that if sections of the seawall collapsed, our part of the world would be no more.

Little attention has been paid in the upper circles to warnings about climate change. Some persons in the letter columns have suggested that we need more roads to higher land in order to save our lives. But it was evident that roads would be of no use as cars could not operate in high levels of water.

For their own protection against another possible flood in future rainy seasons, persons will have to consider vacating their premises. At the moment they do not, understandably, want to leave their household items unprotected. One would also sympathise with them if the shelter offered is a bare schoolroom, tent, or barrack-like accommodation.

At date of writing, no thought appears to have been given to the crisis faced by those who have lost their livelihood. There are others whose firms have not been operating at full strength and therefore have sent workers home on no pay leave. Rents have to be paid, as well as telephone and electricity bills. In the developed world people are given public assistance. But people are people and in this situation there ought to be overseas assistance for those who have lost their monthly incomes.

The crisis is still with us and there are persons who are trapped in houses with no means of accessing food and other vital commodities. There was at one time a telephone number given for seeking assistance. A call to that number did not receive an answer. Daily we should be reminded of how to seek help so that the elderly, the handicapped and shut-ins are not forgotten.

It is the hope of consumers that out of this crisis there will be no more talk of 'winner take all'; that we will work out a system of governance that takes cognisance of the expertise of all persons, irrespective of their party affiliation. No more 18-year-old lads to man kokers. Good management at all levels of the society will go a far way to avoid any recurrence of major catastrophes such as this 2005 flood disaster.

This is a wake-up call to all consumers to take a keen interest in the drainage systems in their communities. Be alert, be willing to participate.