In recent weeks, images of flooding happening as far south as Soesdyke have been appearing on social media. Based on the comments made under many of the flood posts, there was seen to be a certain agreement among commenters about how absurd the situation really is. Why are we so neglectful in making it a priority to be flood-free forever? The thing is that people, though sincere and imaginative in their comments, do not appear to be sure about what they should be asking for.
After reading these comments, I was left with the sense that people want to participate critically in conversations toward a better Guyana, but seem to be unable to frame their thoughts beyond forms such as “we should have China build a new city for us.” and then concluding with “I do not know why this has not happened yet.”
Admittedly, at this point, it is not obvious to anyone that construction would take place inside the Demerara Conservancy in the near or distant future. It is a preserve that provides us with clean water, higher air quality, and many other ecosystem services. That said, the dam and canal contours that define its perimeter have provided us with a defence from, and supply of, the vast amounts of water produced within the watershed.
Without this channelling system, together with the sluice gates to manage it, the coastal area, including the banks all the way up to Soesdyke, would be virtually uninhabitable. Given what is known about the current geophysical Earth age we are thought to be in, this mega-construction is said to guarantee us coastlanders some 10,000 years of flood protection.
Furthermore, this ‘water redirection paradigm’ gives us a principle by which we prepare new lands as they open up. With a perennial water management system such as ours, why do we, to this day, still experience so many floods? Why is it not a national priority to advance drainage technology, especially in the highly valuable and progressively denser banks and coastal areas?
Why is flooding an acceptable reality for the city and elsewhere? What do citizens not know about the authorities in charge of water management across the country? Is there a planned future for water management? Do our authorities see the enormous industrial potential implied by the modernisation of water management in Guyana? Do we not see that active water management implies the employment of multitudes of different workers of different trades and aptitudes? Do we not see vibrant futures for our qualifying authorities and for the societies and guilds of professionals that power them?
Editor, it is no secret that water management in this country is active and involves constant monitoring. The levels of drains, canals and the sea are to be known at all times if we are to keep the water away from our properties and livelihoods. For this, we have sensors connected via mobile towers and the internet; the constant streams of data they emit and the computer systems that act upon this input. Then there are the software developers who build and maintain solutions, so that the pumps can switch on or off, or the sluice gates can open and close, given the precise conditions for doing so.
Water management should be automated, and in that case, would still employ hundreds, if not thousands of people along the way, across the regions, in fields and in jobs that many would be proud to work in. It should be obvious to us that it would take more than just a handful of ‘koker men’ to protect billions of dollars’ worth of investments, livelihoods and the benefits derived from increases in quality-adjusted life years. Do we not see that this problem is a tremendous opportunity for the development of our people, our skills, and our technologies?
Editor, I apologise for the demand I have placed upon you in the space of this letter. I humbly request that you permit me once again to air these views, as I believe very strongly that critical conversation about the real issues we face may hold keys to propelling us forward. It is also very clear to all of us that flooding is obnoxious and unacceptable. Further, in my opinion, there is something of an integrated, idiosyncratic and uncontroversial infrastructural vision implied by this situation.
On that note, I wish to end here by asking: how many more floods must we endure before we realise that we need to take full control of our water management system? Can we not see that, in doing so, we would be developing our technologies, employing ourselves, and driving our industries for centuries to come?