Guyana must adapt in order to mitigate floods – VP Jagdeo

…meets with stakeholders to discuss Govt’s strategic
flood protection measures
…says Govt will tap into oil revenues if need arises

The devastation brought on by flooding due to climate change and global warming will only worsen in the years to come, and Guyana has taken the bold step to formalise actionable plans to adapt and mitigate against these natural disasters.

Vice President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo addressing stakeholders on Tuesday

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo met with stakeholders from the coastland on Tuesday to discuss the Government’s national strategic flood protection measures, where he underscored the need for adaptation at the earliest.
“We live in a part of the world where we have an abundance of freshwater but we’re below sea level. The water is a blessing but it is also a challenge…It creates devastating consequences for people at the personal level and for their livelihood, particularly the farmers. If it has been a challenge in the past, it will get worse in the future because the world has changed in a major way,” Jagdeo told stakeholders at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC).
He highlighted the glaring issue of greenhouse gases, contributing to rising sea level and bringing additional consequences for coastal areas. Guyana’s coast is several feet below sea level, and if action is not taken now, it could be disastrous.
“If we do not keep the global temperature at 1.5 to 2.5 degrees [Celsius] below pre-industrial level by 2050, the rising sea level could inundate many parts of the world in which people live. It would become part of the sea. It would cause such global warming in the future that many of the forests which we seek to preserve, which are important watersheds for freshwaters and our rivers, those forests can just die.”
In the past, a specific amount of rainfall was being recorded for one month; this can now be recorded over the course of a few hours. Last year, hundreds of millions of dollars in losses were suffered after countrywide flooding due to heavy rainfall. Scores of farmers lost their livelihoods.
The former President shared, “When you have water of that volume with such an intensity coming into drainage systems, irrigation systems, storage systems like the conservancies; then you have an enhanced problem of dealing with it. If you can’t manage it and deal with these volumes of water that accumulate in shorter periods, then you’re going to constantly have an issue of flooding, loss of crops, and loss of livelihoods”.
Even as the country moves forward as an oil and gas producer, he said it also has to be part of a global community to address climate change. This brings the expanded Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) into focus and plans for the adaptation.
“A huge part of the expanded LCDS is an adaptation for the future. We cannot reverse the concentration of greenhouse gases and we’re not the ones pumping out most of these greenhouse gases. The entire concentration of greenhouse gases so far is being pumped out by the developed world, not the developing world…But we live in a global community and we suffer because of the policies globally and we will suffer from climate change in the future.”
He added, “You have to adapt to climate change, build the infrastructure of the future and part of that exercise is how do we build the infrastructure of the future so our country can deal with the issue of climate change. We can manage our way through it unlike so many other countries which don’t have a capability now to adapt.”
Some of the more significant adaptation challenges of the future include maintaining sea defences; transferring water into the Atlantic Ocean when there is large volume of water; and managing droughts.
“If we don’t tackle the big issues of water management, we will lose large volumes of our produce and that has not only an impact on the economy but at the family level. Often, it has devastating consequences for people. It means you don’t have an income…It causes economic as well as major social problems,” the Vice President underscored.
But the cost of building and reinforcing infrastructure comes at a heavy price. In this breath, Government plans on tapping into the oil revenues to build and invest in management systems.
“The cost of doing so is enormous to fix our sea defences. These water management systems require heavy investments. Part of the oil resources have to be spent in this manner. Many developing countries now are waiting for the developed world to provide funds for adaptation,” Jagdeo noted.
He said this move especially came after the Caribbean Community’s calls for mitigation costs from the developed world at the COP26 meeting fell on deaf ears.
“Look what happened at COP26. Caricom had a strong position on this and the developed world just ignored all the demands. Imagine they’re not even providing funds for mitigation options like paying for reducing forest carbon…It’s not going to happen and so, we have to fend for ourselves while we remain engaged with the global process. We in Guyana are not sitting on our hands.”
Outlined in Guyana’s expanded Low Carbon Development Strategy is the country’s adaptation needs and areas of focus. Within the next five years, Jagdeo said three projects are being worked on to achieve lowered power costs and cut emissions in the sector.