THE devastating May/June 2021 floods have served as a timely reminder that going forward, Guyana must demonstrate its resilience in several sectors including agriculture, health and infrastructure. Consequently, in addition to adopting innovative farming technologies and establishing SMART medical facilities, the Government of Guyana has also embarked on an important initiative to replace all timber bridges across the country with sturdy concrete structures.
It would appear as though the project is being initiated in the hinterland, which, according to reports, has suffered the most structural damage as a result of the unprecedented floods. Late last week, an Invitation For Bids (IFBs) was issued by the Ministry of Public Works for the reconstruction of more than two dozen bridges stretching from Kurupukari to Lethem, Region Nine, at a combined cost of $2,245,100,000.
The project is being undertaken in six lots, commencing from Bridge 14 located in the Iwokrama corridor and Bridge 34 in the Pirara bridge corridor; this lot will have a combined cost of $378.7 million.
Lot Two of the project, which accounts for six bridges along the Iwokrama corridor, is estimated at $515.5 million, while Lot Three, which also entails the reconstruction of six bridges in the same district, was pegged at $517 million.
Works along the Iwokrama corridor will continue in Lot Four of the project, and progress to the Surama corridor at an estimated cost of $451 million. Lot Five of the project, according to the advertisement, will account for bridges along the corridors of Camudi Bush, Annai and Yakarinta. The final lap of the works will continue on bridges at Genip Landing and Massara Junction, which are expected to cost $61.3 million respectively, while the two bridges at Point Ranch were pegged at $112.2 million and $52.3 million respectively. The due date for submission of bids is February 1, 2022 at 09:00hrs.
This means that these projects could begin within the coming weeks, thereby delivering on a commitment made by President Dr Irfaan Ali to ensure that Guyana is outfitted with climate-resilient infrastructure.
Following last year’s floods, the Ministry of Public Works conducted a preliminary assessment which showed that the country had suffered infrastructural damage totalling billions, particularly in the hinterland regions which saw water levels rising to as much as 16 feet in some areas. This resulted in a number of roads and bridges being washed away, forcing the ministry to execute a series of emergency repairs to the most critical structures.
Subject Minister Juan Edghill had said that it is unlikely that the works which were done had to have been prioritised, but eventually, he noted that significant investments would have to be made to ensure that the fragile structures were replaced with ones that can withstand the occasional flood, especially as Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean continue to combat the damaging effects of climate change.
“Those considerations existed before these floods, but this experience now has made those necessities more pronounced, because you are now able to see how fragile these structures are, and how easily they can be destroyed.” Edghill posited.
He admitted that the replacements and infrastructural transformation cannot be done overnight, and that it would require notable investments. “We have to make up our minds. It is going to cost a lot, but we got to start building them in concrete,” Edghill said previously.
It must be noted that the infrastructural transformation is just one of the many initiatives that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government has planned to minimise the impact of climate change. In the area of health, works have already commenced on a massive US$4.175 million project to convert five regional hospitals into facilities that are climate-resilient. The project, funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), has already seen the materialisation of a SMART Diamond Diagnostic Centre and the Lethem Regional Hospital.
Meanwhile, works are progressing well on the Leonora Regional Hospital in Region Three, (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara); at the Mabaruma Hospital in Region One (Barima-Waini); and the Paramakatoi Health Centre in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni).
The SMART hospitals are intended to boast the requisite infrastructure to guard against flooding, reduce reliance on the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) Corporation by resorting to renewable energy, as well as enabling the use of rainwater for its day-to-day functions.
Further, even though the ‘SMART’ conversion project started with five local hospitals, the Guyana Chronicle was informed that a needs assessment has commenced on 89 other health facilities.
Additionally, as it relates to climate-smart agriculture, the local subject ministry has been pursuing the implementation of shade houses all across the country. With an existing quota of over 50 large-scale shade houses, the Guyana Chronicle understands that an additional 100 facilities were added in 2021, largely owing to works executed by the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI), which has been engaging scores of local farmers on the benefits of shaded cultivation.
In addition, more and more farmers are also employing use of elevated plant beds, since these are seldom affected by floods, which have now become common, due to the effects of climate change.
Despite its long-term benefits, shade houses could be a little expensive to erect. Consequently, the PPP/C, in its 2020 Emergency Budget had allocated $15.8 million for the purchase of shade-house materials that can be sold to farmers at minimal cost. The materials are being supplied to farmers as part of a “revolving fund,” which sees the government making no profits.
Over the past year, the use of shade houses and other climate-smart technologies have been gaining momentum as more and more farmers are beginning to recognise the effects of the harsh temperatures on various crops.
This shift in the agriculture industry has resulted in notable increase in earnings, particularly as they relates to non-traditional crops, the export of which earned the country $2.6 billion in 2021. This represents an increase of $100 million in revenue when compared to the same period in 2020.
President Dr Irfaan Ali has emphasised on multiple occasions that even though Guyana has every intention to capitalise on its petroleum wealth, it is keen and committed on fulfilling its climate-change responsibilities, while propelling the country’s critical non-oil sectors such as education, health, agriculture, and social services. With 17 months thus far as Head of State, many of the promises are coming nicely on stream.