Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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December/January Rains
(Aired 9 February 2005)

   This evening I am going to give a commentary which is more historical than political now remember that these are political commentaries I am making no pretense that they are any thing else nor should I.

    In them I look at the shortcomings of our three branches of Government, the Executive [the President and his merry throng of throngs] the Judiciary [the Law courts] and the Legislative Branch of Government [the Parliament] and I try to describe how they are supposed to work in a democracy and how in fact they are working, I was the first one to ever analyze the Auditor General's report for the public, and I was the first one who began dissecting the budget and the Bank of Guyana statistics for the public in a manner that any citizen can understand, I remember that in one of my first commentaries which I would like to think of as lessons in governance, put in language so that the common man can understand what I am saying, a skill I learnt working on Sugar Estates like Skeldon, Blairmont and Versailles for nearly 30 years communicating complex technological ideas to the common sugar estate worker and we had to do it properly since whatever else was happening elsewhere in commerce in this country apart from a bonanza in 1974-5-6 we were competing in a harsh world for international markets for our sugar, in that early commentary I said that this is our country, we all own it equally, some of us may own more property within it as individuals, but no one owns more of it than any other, so if you have two thousand acres you have the same vote as a man who has 20 acres or a man who has 2 acres or even a man who owns no acres.

    Tonight I want to give the Government a rest I think that we have examined what they are doing enough for awhile.

  Tonight I want to talk about our history and rainfall. Now ladies and gentlemen first of all I want to tell you that even I forgot my own experiences and I built the Versailles Transmission site on the Ground but under my house an old British Colonial, I never built anything on the ground and the only thing in my "bottom house" are the old clay brick pillars and the cars.

    The "old timers" had a reason for building their houses on stilts in this country and we must remember it; and to protect the public the building of at least 5-7 feet off the ground must be incorporated into our building code to protect those who are putting themselves and their property in danger by building on the ground, now remember that the Ocean and River defense dams can give away at any time leading to flooding, in addition to flooding from heavy rainfall so we must stop building our houses flat on the ground a design which is only appropriate in countries which are above sea level and do not get the high rainfall that we can and will get in the future.    

    The Lama conservancy is relieved to the Demerara River by a four door koker located at Land of Canan, East Bank, Demerara there is also a relief at Maduni in the conservancy itself but this relief releases water into the Mahaica River which floods the people living and planting their crops along the Mahaica River Banks when this high level of water is released from the conservancy.

   I am therefore convinced that the Lama must be relieved into the Demerara River alone! And this means that the engineers must get together and design a structure with enough capacity somewhere on the East Bank Road so that they can bring down the Lama level more quickly and efficiently since this experience has demonstrated to us that that the present 4 door relief at Land of Canan is woefully inadequate to protect the East Coast from over topping by the conservancy in heavy rains or indeed if it is breached anywhere along its length.

    If we can do this then we need not spend too much on sluices and increased drainage canals along the East Coast which have to be maintained for 30-70 years before another flood such as this comes again, it would not be economical to maintain such a bigger wider system but we must put the system back in shape with a drainage coefficient to drain 2 inches in 24 hours at all times and invest our limited resources on the lesser expenditure concentrated in one place which would require far less on going maintenance cost, and put in place on the East Bank a substantially bigger structure perhaps 5 or six of them instead of just one to blow the lama by 6 inches a day in cases of heavy rainfall. Lives have been lost now so this has become our number one priority.

    In his autobiography Mr. E.A. Chapman wrote the following and I quote his observations "The year 1933 closed with unprecedented rainfall in New Amsterdam. From December 16th to 25th   rain fell almost continuously day and night.  It seemed to have begun in Berbice but it gradually fell all over the colony and caused floods.  New Amsterdam was under water at the end of the year and the countryside was in the same condition.  The kokers were unable to take off the great amount of water, which rose to a height of about four feet in Stanleytown. In Smythtown and Queenstown, the eastern sides were more covered and help had to be given to ladies who had to go to work.  In most instances, they were lifted out of their homes, and sometimes half way out of the streets by male friends.

    On Sunday, January 9th 1934 at 7.40 p.m., sudden bursts of wind with rain traveling at about 32 miles per hour struck Georgetown and by 7 a.m. next morning 7 inches and 16 parts had fallen, creating an all-time record, the previous record being 6 inches 88 parts on December 26th 1893.  Many persons in Church were unable to leave for home until the next morning.  In view of the fact that for the two previous months there had been rainfall, this was more than the drainage could cope with.  The various conservancies and creeks overflowed in many places; dams broke and the greater part of the coastlands looked like one huge sea.

    Stores in certain sections could not be opened until mid-day on the following Monday, and many streets were covered by water.

    In the country, things were much worse; entire crops were destroyed, and small stock and cattle perished in great numbers.

   Government immediately organized financial and medical relief for the country districts and boats with food and clothing went to relieve the necessities of those who were marooned in their homes, while some were taken to Georgetown to be housed and cared for until the floods abated.

   In the meantime, Government transferred live cattle to open dry lands.  Many persons whose houses were on high blocks, put their domestic animals to live with them.  One woman who had done so was surprised to see an alligator also seeking to gain entrance.  She drove it away and quickly shut her door.

  The roads along the coast were about four feet under water in all three counties.  The railway line between Georgetown and Rosignol was on a higher level than the road, and though covered by water, the cattle assembled there.  The train traveling at a very slow pace tried to drive them off by puffing steam before it, but many of the cattle were crushed because of unwillingness to go to the side where the water was deeper" end quote.

   So Chapman saw and wrote about what we saw, one sheet of water and the conservancies overtopping causing just as much destruction as the direct rainfall itself.

   The saying is that those who forget the past will be forced to relive it. The funny part of all of this to me is that the May/June rains have NEVER failed in this country, the December/January rains have been known to fail many times, very few countries have TWO rainy periods a year as we do, and the May/June rains have historically been the heavier of the two rainfall periods, but sometimes apparently when heavy rain does come in which is historically the smaller of our two rainy seasons, in December and January in 1893 and 1934 and now in 2005, It does proper COME!