Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Do not forget the Past
(Aired 25 April 2005)

     I remember the Jonestown tragedy, I was probably one of the first people in this country to know what had happened since Christopher Deane a friend of mine who worked at GBC called me on the evening of the day it happened and told me about it, at first when he was telling me the story, I thought that he was telling me that Jim Jones was being accused of killing 900 people over the years, since what he was actually telling me was too monstrous to contemplate but on questioning him I discovered that what he was telling me was the horror that was disclosed to us a few days later that Jones and 900 odd people had committed suicide at the same time.

     But we all remember it, it was one of those occurrences in our lives which was so earth shattering that we will always remember where we were when we first heard it, I believe that we also remember that sign behind Jim Jones's chair it read "those who forget the mistakes of the past will be forced to relive it" or words which meant the same thing.

    Walter Rodney in his book "Themes in African Guyanese History" told us that every acre at present in cultivation along the coastal plain which consists of an area of 1750 square miles out of the 83,000 square miles in this country was rescued from the mangrove swamp by African slaves who toiled for over two centuries with the sea in front and the flood behind to create it, the flood behind being of course the Conservancies.  

    The Vern sugar commission in 1948 estimated that each square mile in the sugar cultivation involved the provision of forty-nine miles of drainage canals and ditches and sixteen miles of the higher level waterways used for transport and irrigation the commission concluded that the construction of this system of dams and dykes including the sugar cultivation involved the movement of over 1 billion tons of soil and that the slaves shovel in hand moved 100 million tons of it while enduring conditions of perpetual mud and water.

   Walter Rodney had a fundamentally sound understanding of the conservancy/Atlantic Ocean situation and what he recorded was true, since the height of the water behind us in the East Demerara Water Conservancy {EDWC} is higher than the high tide level in the Atlantic Ocean in front and we live on this narrow strip of land along the coast from the Essequibo to the Courentyne compliments of the African slaves and we are all benefiting from it now. 

   I am still seeing letters in the newspapers and statements from government officials which tells me that a lot of people, even government functionaries still completely misunderstand the situation in this country as it pertains to our rainfall but to correct the problems of our drainage we have to remember and understand our history so that we are not forced to relive the disasters of it.

   There was a time when every shop in this country outside of Georgetown was accompanied by a huge bridge over 30-40 feet long from the road to the shop which was built 4 ft above the ground. Mr. David De Caires' house in Quamina and Camp Streets an old British colonial style house like mine is unusual since it has a bottom flat, which was the original design, but if you look at it carefully, his bottom flat is about 4 feet above the ground so inside his house never floods no matter what, but we have all forgotten this, and I agree that the building code must be modified to force people, for their own protection, to build so that they do not suffer huge periodic losses when the rain falls heavily enough to flood us as inevitable will in the future, I said so months before in my commentary December/January Rainfall aired 9th Feb. 2005.

    Here are the facts, many years ago it was decided that the drainage systems of our residential areas will be designed to take off 2 inches of rainfall in 24 hours and our agricultural areas will be designed to take off 1.5 inches in 24 hours.

     This figure of 2 inches a day was not chosen randomly, it was based on nearly two hundred years of observing rainfall data in the colony and the engineers who made this determination looked at the rainfall pattern and decided that more than 2 inches of rainfall in 24 hours occurred frequently enough to warrant building a system of drainage which can remove it from the land in 24 hours. To make this clearer to you, the engineers determined that building a system which could remove say 4 inches in 24 hours was uneconomical since it would be more expensive to maintain it than the cost of the damage from flooding that 4 inches of rainfall in 24 hours will cause since getting 4 inches several days in succession was so rare. Not that it would not happen ladies and gentlemen but that it would happen so rarely that it was not economically feasible to maintain it for 30-40 years to take off the water when it did happen.

   The repercussions of changing this index of draining 2 inches of rainfall in 24 hours to draining 4 inches in 24 hours are obvious instead of a trench you see anywhere which is 30 ft wide it would have to be 60 ft wide, instead of a koker being 12 ft wide it would have to be 24 ft wide, every drain you see in the city or the country side would have to be double what it is now.

   We have a concrete example before us in the 2004 report of Region 4 chairman Alan Munroe, who I have told you is an excellent engineer, in his region there exists 1.7 million linear feet of trenches, drains and canals and it costs the region 20 million dollars, 3 times a year to clean it, a total of 60 million dollars but remember that this is for a drainage system capable of taking off 1.5 inches in 24 hours, well if we changed that index to 3 inches in 24 hours, it would cost him 120 million dollars a year to clean a system which will only be necessary once or twice every 30-40 years and this does not include the cost of desilting this 1.7 million linear feet of drainage infrastructure.

   What we must do is ensure that we keep what we do have functioning the way it ought to and make sure that no one interferes with it, dumping garbage in it, narrowing it with bridges or other structures etc. because some day we will need it to take considerably more than 2 inches in 24 hours and we will be in big trouble when it cannot cope. 

    On the 14th to the 18th January 2005 more than 5 inches of rain fell every single day for 5 days and produced a total precipitation of 25.66 inches of rainfall, I don't care where you were located in the costal plain of Guyana you would have had around 1 to 1.5 feet of water flooding you. Since we are designed to take off 2 inches in 24 hours for 5 days that's 10 inches but 25 inches fell.

    What we saw on the east coast was something all together different to this 1.5 ft of water we had in Georgetown since after the 18th January when the storm producing this high rain essentially ended, water in the East Demerara Water Conservancy [EDWC] kept rising and started coming out through the dam and what we saw happening for 5 weeks after was caused by the non functioning of the old relief trenches designed to take down the high level of the EDWC located at Craig, Garden of Eden and Friendship. This was criminal negligence since 33 people lost their lives because of it and were I the man in charge here, a lot of people would be looking for a job right now, since I don't have friends when it comes to work and I don't thief, so I don't have any dirty story [which I don't want the public to know] to hide.

    And what happened next? Did we call in a group of highly qualified Dutch engineers to do the project for us using local contractors? [I told you that I will offer solutions] No, we give one of these contracts for 90 million dollars to fix one of these important conservancy relief trenches to a former rice farmer called Reasat. That's what I am talking about. Some people are competent to rule and some are not, this has nothing to do with the colour of your skin, two of this country's best engineers now residing and working abroad in this field of hydraulics are called Jimmy Singh and Mike Ragwen so I am talking about who is ruling us, not what colour they are, you, ladies and gentlemen, must decide if you are being properly ruled.