WITHIN the past year, the Government of Guyana has injected significant sums of monies into improving the country’s drainage capacity.
For the period January 2021 to now, Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) has benefitted from capital works to the tune of $717,805,429. This is according to figures provided by Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha, who has oversight of the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA).
The projects that have already started and have progressed include the rehabilitation of a critical drainage structure at Henrietta, Leguan island, to the value of $61,758,799; the construction of a $36,804,275 drainage control component and revetment at Kamuni, West Bank Demerara, and the construction of new drainage sluice at New Friendship, Wakenaam island, valued at $143,390,550. Together, these projects total $241,953,624, and, added to that, are other projects that are slated to commence later in the year. These include the construction of a $466,167,655 pump station in the Greenwich Park/ Barnwell area, along the East Bank of Essequibo, and the much-needed rehabilitation of the five-door relief structure at the Warimina, Boerasirie conservancy to the value of $9,684,150.
These two projects alone total $475,851,805. Aside from the major initiatives, the Ministry of Agriculture is also executing a number of other works across Region Three, including the maintenance of farm roads and dams to the tune of $52,435,800, as well as a number of ongoing drainage and irrigation works valuing $157,826,815.
Unfortunately, despite these and other continued investments, the country’s drainage system came under severe attack during the April-May floods, which devastated more than 52,000 households across 300 communities, and crippled the livelihoods of thousands of farmers.
The floods, which had been pegged as a Level Two disaster, affected each of the Ten Administrative regions, with Region Four, Demerara-Mahaica being among the least affected. This was largely due to the operations of the Northern Relief Channel, an eight-gated sluice which was conceptualised and constructed prior to the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government leaving office in 2015.
The iconic structure located at Hope/Dochfour, East Coast Demerara, was heavily criticised by the then parliamentary opposition which comprised of the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).
However, over the past few years, the iconic, multi-component outfall has been key to releasing excess water into the Atlantic Ocean, at times when the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) reaches maximum capacity. The conservancy is basically a reservoir that holds up to 582 square kilometers of fresh water, which had long been susceptible to overtopping. Ever since the Hope Canal was put to the test in 2015, the authorities have lauded the channel’s capabilities of drastically lowering water levels in the overburdened conservancy, which was also being served by an insufficient release channel located at Land of Canaan, East Bank Demerara.
In recognising the critical role that the Hope Canal channel has played in safeguarding Region Four from massive floods, President Dr. Irfaan Ali has committed to ensuring that the project is replicated in other parts of the country, including regions Three, Five and Six.
With Guyana being below sea level, it is imperative that the country’s drainage apparatuses are in exceptional working order to prevent any recurrences of the April-May and 2005 floods. In addition to investing in improved infrastructural capacity, both President Ali and Minister Mustapha have stressed the need for stricter monitoring of outfall channels.
As a matter of fact, during the height of the 2021 floods, President Ali executed an impromptu visit to several critical sluices in and around Georgetown, and it was found that pump attendants were sleeping while sluice doors were closed, and pumps were switched off.
The President had observed that although systems were in place and instructions were given for pumps to work continually, attendants were being negligent. Dr. Ali had said then that all of the government’s investments would run futile if persons continue to be irresponsible in the execution of their functions.
“We can invest as much as we want, but it will be of no benefit if we do not have responsibility in the system,” Dr. Ali surmised.
Nonetheless, the Agriculture Minister had said that, notwithstanding the challenges, the Ali-led government will continue to make significant investments towards the development of the agriculture sector, which is expected to remain a premier income earner, even with the emergence of a burgeoning petroleum sector.
“Agriculture is the way forward,” the minister recently told residents of Onverwagt, West Coast Berbice.
During the distribution of some $1.6 billion worth of flood relief assistance, minister Mustapha reaffirmed the government’s commitment to utilising the country’s oil revenues to invest in the acceleration of the non-oil industries, and, more especially, the Agricultural sector which has been driving Guyana’s economy since time immemorial.
The minister pointed to the fact that Guyana has already reclaimed its agriculture leadership role within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and, within the coming years, will be investing heavily in value-added initiatives that could see farmers earning much more from their production.
Minister Mustapha said that the current and continued investments in building the country’s drainage and irrigation capacity is to ensure that farmers are no longer faced with consistent floods.
Moreover, on multiple occasions, the agriculture minister has emphasised the need for more Guyanese to invest in climate-resilient farming, which would reduce and perhaps even mitigate the impact that the weather has on crops.
“By doing these things, you get to control how much sunlight and so goes to your produce; you will also be planting on raised beds, so even if there are floods, it will not get to your plants,” Minister Mustapha said, during a recent interview with the Guyana Chronicle.
The minister is hopeful that within the coming year, the agriculture industry would see a massive take-off in the right direction. Already, within the past year, the government has invested in excess of $50 billion to ensure the sustainability and modernisation of the country’s thriving agriculture sector.