Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What a waste!

Stabroek News editorial, Saturday 03 January 2009
What a waste!

Published: January 3, 2009 in Editorial

These are troubled times. Environmentalists and scientists around the world
have for at least the past decade been issuing warnings about climate change
and the devastating effects it would have/has been having on the world.
Global warming has melted ice in the north and the water has seen ocean
levels rise. The unaccustomed warmth has also brought with it unprecedented
natural disasters and governments and individuals have been called upon to
each do their part to help mitigate the effects of what has now become
Changes to save the environment have included the introduction of
alternative energy, the manufacturing of 'green' vehicles and moves to save
the world's rainforests. However, the sweeping changes necessary have not
been happening and even if they were, climate change would still march
inexorably forward, if perhaps a bit more slowly.
Concomitant with this, there were increases in the prices of food along with
shortages of staples and other commodities worldwide. The price of oil shot
up to its highest ever and only came crashing down after the American stock
market did so in the aftermath of a massive mortgage crisis in that country,
sparking a downturn in the world's economy. Perilous times indeed.
In the international arena, Guyana appears to have done its part. Then
President Desmond Hoyte had in 1989 made an offer at the Commonwealth Heads
of Government Summit in Malaysia, to set aside a sizeable area (371,000
hectares) of pristine rainforest for conservation. The result was the
Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development,
which came into being in 1996. More recently, President Bharrat Jagdeo
offered the country's entire rainforest in the fight to slow global warming.
In addition, in response to the world food market crisis, local farmers have
been urged to grow more food. A massive country-wide campaign to this effect
kicked off several months ago with seeds and other incentives being offered
to those who were willing to take up the challenge to plant new crops or
extend their acreage. Farmers were assured by those in authority that export
markets would have been accessed as the extent of the campaign foresaw the
harvesting of more produce than would have been needed for local
Then came the end-of-year wet season and near apocalypse for many who would
have bought into the grow-more-food hype. Some farming communities have been
suffering from flooding for five years and more, as a result of poor
drainage and poorer infrastructure. Stop-gap measures have been employed
over the years to provide relief at the time of the flooding, while it seems
like the rest of the time the authorities crossed their fingers or touched
wood and hoped for the best.
Three years ago, Guyana experienced what would have been one of the worst,
if not the worst floods in its history, given not just the magnitude of the
area it covered, but the millions of dollars lost and the number of people
displaced, while water remained in their houses and communities. There were
also several deaths as a result of drowning and the water-borne disease
leptospirosis. The year 2005 offered a sign, as it were, of the clear and
present danger facing Guyanese − the majority of whom reside on the low
coastal plain, which is below sea level − of what might happen in the future
owing to changes in weather patterns.
Back then, media cameras recorded endless canals filled with plastics and
other non-biodegradable material, highlighting what has been an ongoing
problem with waste disposal for a number of years. They also provided
visuals of broken and useless sluices that are so vital for drainage.
But even more telling was the daily evidence of years, perhaps even decades
of silt and weeds in almost every drainage canal, trench and drain in the
city and all along the coast, pointing to neglect and just plain, don't give
a damn.
What ought to have happened after the 2005 Great Flood did not. There are
still endless canals that have not been dug and drains and trenches that
haven't been cleaned. There was flooding in 2006 and 2007, but not of the
current magnitude. The pictures of people dwelling in floodwater that has
been in their homes and communities for upwards of 21 days are
heart-wrenching. No one who appreciates Christmas as the season of peace and
goodwill could have truly celebrated knowing that just miles away their
fellow human beings were in dire straits.
The stories and photos of the endless losses of livestock and crops,
amounting to millions of dollars are agonizing. The grow more food campaign
has been reduced to mere words as a result of poor planning, lack of proper
maintenance and just plain ineptitude.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that planting acres of vegetables
on land that is susceptible to flooding constitutes a waste of money, time
and human resources and also causes grief. Protecting the earth also means
protecting its people and for those in authority who seem to have forgotten,
charity begins at home.
Perhaps the government will now see it fit to really give the coastal plain
the infrastructural boost it so desperately needs, or alternatively offer
highway plots as farmlands to the long-suffering farmers. Surely it is
obvious by now that this state of affairs cannot continue.

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