Almost 3 months under water: Mahaicony Creek residents still braving floodwaters
By Lakhram Bhagirat
Just about three months ago, Guyana experienced countrywide flooding, devastating communities in all ten Administrative Regions.
Among those hardest hit were communities in Regions Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), Five (Mahaica-Berbuce), Six (East Berbice-Corentyne), Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) and Ten (Upper Demerara-Upper Berbice).
The Mahaicony Creek is located in Region Five and is one of the frontier farming communities in country. Residents there have been underwater for almost three month and being a riverine community, one would expect that they are usually flooded during the rainy season. However, the residents there are reporting that while flooding would occur during heavy rainfall, this is the first time in over a decade that they have experienced such devastation.
Rather, some are contending that this level of devastation never occurred in almost 50 years.
In an effort to understand the level of devastation and highlight what the residents need going forward, to pick up the pieces and restart, the Sunday Times travelled to the community.
Over 6ft of water
Currently, the water level is receding in the Mahaicony Creek but very slowly. In some cases, the water is being reaccumulated since it is still raining.
The entire lower flat of Seerattie “Sani” Sohanlall’s home was flooded and according to her it didn’t happen over time rather it was fast and left them no time to take precautionary measures. However, she adds that even if they were given the opportunity to move to higher grounds, they had nowhere to go with all their belongings.
The lower flat of her home housed her kitchen and a bedroom. That is completely destroyed by the water. Now, she prepares meals for the family in the verandah where she set up a temporary kitchen.
Access to her home is still restricted because the lower flat is still under almost 3ft of water. So when her daughters and husband wants to leave the home, they have to climb over the verandah, onto the shed, slip onto a barrel positioned on the septic tank, then onto a jar that acts as a stair, and then into their boat to go wherever they need to. To get into their home, they would have to take the same steps but in reverse.
Sani’s youngest daughter is a Community Health Worker at the Mora Point Health Centre in the Creek and has to go to work everyday so imagine the hassle to get out of her own home. Of course, the risk of injury is great.
“Now it a draw and we trying to make comfort to go back down in my kitchen. We a just bare patient till the water gone and see what more we can do. We get plenty damage. Right now one a me bed downstairs, the whole bed, mattress and everything under water deh. We can’t do nothing because we can’t hoist and put it no where. All the stuff in the kitchen like salt, sugar and whatever, turn over and fall and destroy,” she related.
Sani has been living in Mahaicony Creek for about 42 years now and in that time, she said that this is the biggest flood they have ever had. Her husband has been unable to work for three months now and that significantly limits the family’s ability to survive.
While they received flood hampers from government and private organisations, Sani says that they need help beyond just food. They need financial assistance and other forms of assistance to commence rebuilding their lives and that assistance is needed urgently. She added that she cannot stress how important it is for them to commence the rebuilding phase since it is quite a long time now that their lives literally came at a standstill.
“I won’t lie and say that I lose millions but me lose about $300-500,000 in things. If we can get we can get some money to buy back some stuff and them thing that then we can start back doing things,” she said.
Also, in Sani’s yard there is a low hanging powerline that she has been pleading with GPL to raise but has had no success in that regard. She said that when the water was at it highest, the line was just mere inches above it and stressed how dangerous that is.
“Nothing nah deh, all dead”
The water rose as high as 4ft in 65-year-old Lucille Budhoo’s yard. At the time of the flood, she had construction ongoing along with a thriving business selling cow’s milk, creole fowl, ducks, eggs, ice and other things. The income generated from that would pay her bills and sustain the household consisting of her husband and her.
It would also leave money for her to save. However, for three months now all she has been incurring is losses upon losses.
“This is the hardest hit of flood. We had flood in 2005 and 2008 but this is the worse. The water take all me animals them.
I does depend pon cow and milk it and sell but now we nah got nothing leff…nothing nah deh, all dead. Me lose 25 head cow, 4 goat, 100 duck chicken, plenty big duck and creole chicken. Me only get about 10 leff now and me does mine all this thing and sell fuh mek awe daily bread when the week and month come. Me nah get no money nowhere now,” Budhoo said.
She has been living at Water Dog Creek Mahaicony Creek for 43 years now and worked hard to ensure that she had an income to sustain her during her older days. Now that is being threatened since she now has to start from the beginning again.
“Now you got to depend on you children them and that what me nah like at all – ask children for something. When you work, you work and build of your own sweat… All the lil thing we got here done. It is very hard. You nah get no income nowhere, me does sell milk for meh living, sell ice, sell creole egg, sell duck and my husband does mine cow and sell when qurbani deh and you can’t sell none this qurbani because all dead out…It would cause over $2M for me cow them alone because me a sell more than that when the year come. Me get about 7 pen what me a mine livestock in at that back there and all them gone now,” the distraught woman said.
On the verge of tears, the devastated woman questioned how they are going to restart now. She notes that as every day passes by, they have to dig deeper into their savings and bother her husband and she are not at an age where they can have that replenished easily.
When she was flooded out, Budhoo was constructing the lower flat of her home to act as storage space for her milk, eggs and freezer to make it easier when she’s selling those items. Construction was stopped and she is now at risk of losing her construction materials.
Budhoo, like many other in the Creek, is hoping that they would soon be able to receive some financial assistance to begin rebuilding.
“Me need back money fuh start back me business and if them can help me back my livestock. We need the money. If me nah get the money me can’t do nothing…Me nah know what go tek place with we but me need back help for me animal. Me need all help to put me on my foot because me nah get anything, nothing nah deh, all dead,” Budhoo pleaded.
Bank loans, debt to millers and total losses
The major economic activity in Mahaicony Creek is farming, whether it is rice or cash crops, residents have invested millions in their crops. Khemkarran Jori has been farming rice in the creek for about 10 years now. He operates 113 acres of land and when this flood came around, he was harvesting. However, he lost over 100 acres to the floods – which totally devastated him.
“The water get big and the bush water start come. Me been a cut rice at the back there and we could just cut 2 load paddy…the combine leff there and we get the grain bin and so,” the 62-year-old farmer said.
Jori is now worried about how he will be able to restart his operations since he lost over $10 million from the rice crop. The losses, according to him, is devastating but the least of his problems at this time since his debts is what he is more worried about.
He owes the bank, IPED, the Small Business Bureau $2.5 million and a combined $7 million to millers.
“It is a big set back because the man (millers) them want money because remember them ah invest. Them a give fertilizer, drugs, diesel and those are things them tek them money and invest in you to spend back ah the rice…Me under water over 2 months now. The help I need is with the bank so they can reduce the interest and renew the loan them and if the millers can give assistance to go back pon the next crop. Me nah know if them go want do that because we owe them the money but that is all we can ask for fuh the next crop because this crop out so till in October/November we go shy (throw paddy) again and till then we will ask them fuh lil help again,” Jori explained.
He said that they are hopeful that the government, the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) and the Ministry of Agriculture can step in and provide them with some substantial financial assistance to get back into operation. He added that they could have been able to save the fields if the flooding was just as a result of the rainy season.
Many of the rice farmers are hoping that the GRDB can assist them with everything needed to get back on their feet because their income from this crop has been totally destroyed by the floodwaters. They say that there was very little they could have done to prevent the flooding since the water took them as a surprise.
Almost three months later, the floodwaters are still reigning supreme and as some residents are now beginning to pick up the pieces, they are pleading for assistance. The assistance they require is not in the form of food hampers rather it is financial since many of them have been out of jobs and not earning for months now.