APNU/AFC’s disappearing act during floods

The National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA), the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and the Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary (MMA) Development Authority are major players along the Coast of Guyana from Charity, Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) to Crabwood Creek, Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) and in Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice) when it comes to preparation for heavy rains and response to floods. In recent times, these agencies displayed major shortcomings. Several pumps controlled by the NDIA, GuySuCo and the MMA were non-operational. Assistance to farmers was often totally absent.

The NDIA is one of the most critical agencies in any flood response. Yet for several months now, the appointed Chairman, John Piggot, has been absent. Piggot apparently became disheartened with the poor management of the NDIA, the impotence of the Agriculture Ministry and disrespect for the NDIA Board that he walked off as Chairman. He appeared frustrated by the ineptitude and ineffectiveness of the NDIA and the lack of any leadership from the Agriculture Ministry. A contracted employee of the NDIA has been co-opted to chair the monthly meeting of the NDIA Board. APNU/AFC has abrogated its responsibility to ensure that the NDIA Board has a proper chair. If the appointed chair is no longer willing to serve in that capacity, then immediate action to replace him is a non-negotiable obligation of the Government. With such recklessness, no wonder APNU/AFC appears clueless every time Guyana experiences heavy rain.

Floods recently affected Regions Two, Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), Four (Demerara-Mahaica), Five (Mahaica-Berbice), Six, Nine (Upper Takatu-Upper Essequibo) and 10. APNU/AFC was largely absent, people often left to fend for themselves. While a couple of cursory, photo-opportunity visits were made, like PM Nagamootoo and Minister Bulkan in Region Nine, Government Ministers were largely missing in action, AWOL to use a military term. No one can reasonably blame APNU/AFC for heavy rains. The rains are, indeed, nature at play. But how we prepare for heavy rain and what we do when there are floods are responsibilities of the sitting Government. On both scores, APNU/AFC failed.

Adding insult to injury, Minister Noel Holder stated that flooding in Region Nine is not a Guyana problem, but a Brazilian one; that Brazil needs to take better care of its rivers. No one doubts the Brazilian rivers flow into the Takatu and Ireng that cause floods in Region Nine. That is a fact and that has always been so. But it is Guyana’s responsibility to prepare for rising river waters during the rainy season and to make preparations to reduce the impact of floods. To excuse poor response by deeming floods in Region Nine a Brazilian problem is abandoning your people in their time of need. Announcing that a Joint Border Team between Guyana and Brazil will be established is not a response to the present situation in Region Nine. Guyana and Brazil established such a border cooperation a long time ago.

In Region Six, more than 1000 cows perished in Black Bush Polder during the recent floods. There was an announcement last week that Government was sending a team of engineers to recommend actions to reduce the level of the floods. Nothing was said about the animals and how Government would assist farmers to rescue animals that were trapped in the flood waters. Why is it APNU/AFC waited until flood waters rose to a crisis level and more than 1000 animals perished and several thousands more at risk to then send a team of engineers? As a risk mitigation measure, APNU/AFC should have had a strategy in place to prepare for such floods, since floods in that area are frequent. The actions necessary are well-known. Sending in a team is only another example of fluff that APNU/AFC has mastered well. But the farmers and the animals will not be relieved by such fluff at this late time.

Even as the flood raged throughout the coast, many of the pumps were non-operational. Minister Holder needs to inform the nation how many pumps are available for use in Guyana, how many of these were operational during the floods and how many hours they were operational. The fact is that many were not functional during the height of the floods. Indeed, some became operational only when flooding became a crisis, but for one reason or another many remained non-functional.

Above all else, political leadership is critical. It has not escaped farmers and people in general that whenever floods or other weather-related problems erupt, Minister Holder seem to disappear, nowhere to be found, and political leadership in the response is totally absent. Minister Holder is a nice man and I respect him, but he has to become more visible during crisis and ensure that agencies such as the NDIA can respond optimally. Hiding from people – the disappearing act – will not make the flood waters disappear.