GUYANA is very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This is so for several reasons, the main reason being our flat coastland which is home to the vast majority of the Guyanese people.
It is a reality of our national existence that our coastland is six feet below sea level at high tide. That in itself is a frightening scenario. As children growing up, we were taught how prone we are to flood waters invading our shores which potentially could emanate from rising sea and river levels.
Our flat coastlines are particularly susceptible to rapid accumulation of rainfall, especially during periods of heavy downpour. We are known to experience two rainy seasons– the December-January and the May-June– and, within recent times, what is known as high-intensity rainfall.
One consequence of such heavy rainfall is that it makes natural drainage into rivers and seas extremely difficult, especially during the high tides.
Our drainage and irrigation systems are therefore put under severe stress during the rainy seasons.
Climate change poses an enormous threat to our existing sea defence infrastructure which was designed and built, for the most part, since the early days of Dutch and British colonisation.
It is in the above context that the current flood situation in the country has to be situated. The problem is further compounded by changing global dynamics due to global warming.
The Guyana Government is not unaware of these challenges and the country’s vulnerability to climate change.
The current administration, despite budgetary constraints, has been making every effort to mitigate the effects of climate change by way of several policy interventions, which include construction of new sea defences and rehabilitation of existing ones. In addition, substantial sums of money are being spent annually on the desilting of drainage and irrigation systems across the country.
The current flood situation we are experiencing, though not entirely new, has once again brought home the harsh reality of our national life, namely, that we cannot take our existence for granted in the face of climate change and the unpredictability such changes can engender.
Still fresh in the minds of many Guyanese is the devastation caused by the 2005 flood when approximately 290,000 people or roughly 39 per cent of the country’s population were affected. The economic impact of the flood was estimated at US$465 million or 59 per cent of the country’s GDP.
Thankfully, the magnitude of our devastation is not comparable to some of the worst hit regions in the world but it does serve to remind us that we are not completely, as it were, out of the woods when it comes to natural disasters of one kind or the other.
President Mohamed Irfaan Ali, his entire Cabinet and team of officials, both technical and administrative, have been extremely proactive in terms of disaster mitigation and bringing relief to affected communities. It is the timely and personal touch of a caring hand that matters in situations such as these and the President has not been found wanting.
True enough, the full extent of the losses may not be fully and adequately compensated but the soothing hand of a caring leader meant a lot in times of distress.
This is no time to play politics with the lives and livelihoods of the Guyanese people. Too much is at stake. Apart from the several homes that have been affected by flood waters, there is also the adverse effect on agricultural production and livestock. President Ali has indicated that no effort will be spared to bring the situation under control. An inter-agency approach involving the Government, NGOs and the Private Sector has already been set in motion to bring relief to individuals and communities affected by the flood.
The recent floods that are taking place in Guyana and for that matter the world at large is symptomatic of a much bigger problem which scientists have warned quite some time ago, but which seemed to have been ignored by policymakers, especially in the highly industrialised world.