Khantankerous: Georgetown…We’ve got to move it

Khantankerous: Georgetown…We’ve got to move it

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Some 16 years or so ago, and long before the 2005 great flood, as part of the requirements in reading for a University of Guyana degree in Communications programme I recall researching and presenting a paper which examined population distribution.
The paper argued that the situation of an estimated 80% of the Guyanese population living on a thin sliver of the coastland under sea level is perilous.
And there are no projections for this situation, through natural phenomenon or weather patterns, to improve in the foreseeable future. The reverse is true. The current system of the centuries ago Dutch-built sea defence system is both expensive to maintain, and fickle. While holding the Atlantic off, it nonetheless puts the lives of thousands of residents at risk on a seasonal basis due to a combination of heavy rainfall and high tides.
One must also add to the mix the alarming forecasts of global sea-level rises caused by both thermal expansion and the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps that could see sea levels rise by as much as half a metre by the end of the 21st century.
Meanwhile it is not that flooding, as we have recently seen in Georgetown (for seven years in a row), cannot be better controlled. A better performing government and City Council, working harmoniously in the interest of the citizenry ought to bring quick alleviation as well as properly advise residents of the possibility and what preventative and precautionary measures ought to be taken.
But instead the situation has been worsened in recent years as a result of the poor, clogged and ill-equipped drainage systems. Complicating the situation beyond the present disaster state is the fact that narrow political considerations trump a practical approach to flood prevention and control.
Flooding is an issue, and a serious one, but an issue of greater importance is population explosion in Georgetown and its suburbs and the absolute incapacity of the city to continue to bear the burden of the effects.
The UG paper, in its recommendations discussed the need not only for what should be done to protect coastlanders but also the need for the coastland population to be incrementally, as part of a systematic programme, relocated to the hinterland.
Specifically, the paper highlighted the need for the national authorities to develop a modern city in the hinterland, with access to all basic needs and modern necessities. Noting the historical examples of Belmopan, Brasilia, Canberra and Washington DC of cities being purpose built, the paper went on to argue that population relocation to this new Guyanese city should be on the basis of pull factors such as economic opportunity through the creation of a tax-free manufacturing zone within the outer perimeter of the city.
Over the past decade the PPP government has been integrally involved in a systematic regime of ‘push’ population relocation. We have seen the government shift thousands of residents to housing schemes at Diamond, Tuschen and Parfait Harmonie. This is essentially relocation from one flood prone area to other flood prone areas. It is, as expressed in a popular colloquial term, ‘digging hole fuh full hole’.
Population relocation always faces resistance. People naturally prefer to remain in their comfort zones, however Guyana cannot risk delaying the move to develop a new hinterland city. To do so is to dangerously flirt with a catastrophic natural disaster. From all the signs, those which were experienced last week, and those similar which are experienced on an annual basis, we are getting closer to a doomsday situation.