High Tide at the Seawall – East Coast Demerara – Guyana
Photo Credit: Caribbean Development Bank
When I was a kid in Georgetown, capital of Guyana, flooding meant a day or more off from school. During the rainy season, it was quite normal for drainage canals to overflow into streets and neighboring yards. To drain the flood water, kokers or sluice-gates could not be opened until low tide.
Over the years, flooding along Guyana’s 264-mile-long, low-lying coastal plain has intensified. This is due partly to failure in upgrading the sea defense system built in the 1740s under Dutch colonization. But the main culprit has been the rise in sea levels. In a country where over eighty percent of the population lives along the coast, ranging from 20 to 40 inches below sea level, this is cause for concern and an action plan.
Evidence on the ground and from outer space indicates that Earth’s polar ice caps, Greenland, and mountain glaciers worldwide are melting. According to research done by Evan Persaud of the University of Guyana, the mean sea level rise for Georgetown is 9.25 inches over the past fifty years; greater than the global mean sea level rise of 7.9 inches for a hundred-year period.
In a stunning chart, National Geographic depicts rising sea levels from AD 1 to 2013, plus four scenarios for the period 2013 to 2100. Their aerial global map, If All the Ice Melted, shows the world’s new coastlines. Georgetown and most of Guyana’s coastal plain would be inundated.
To prevent this scenario, Guyana’s capital should be relocated to higher ground inland. The nation’s lead climate change negotiator disagrees. As quoted in a Reuter’s article, he “believes it would be difficult to move the capital inland.”
Remaining on the coastal plain will be costly.
Quoted in the same article, Guyana’s agriculture minister said: “I cannot give an estimate but it will be massive…millions of US dollars that we have to invest in order to ensure that our housing schemes are properly drained and that our agricultural lands are properly drained and irrigated… It is not something that could be done in one year or five or ten years.”
As one of the founding members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Guyana is not alone in facing the threat of rising sea levels. Seven small island member states already face critical economic losses from climate-related disasters to their tourist industry, agricultural lands, and infrastructure.
In his message for World Environment Day, 5 June 2014, the United Nations Secretary-General noted:
Small Island Developing States [and Guyana] have contributed little to climate change. Their combined annual output of greenhouse gases is less than one per cent of total global emissions, but their position on the front lines has projected many to the fore in negotiations for a universal new legal climate agreement in 2015…
Raise your voice, not the sea level. Planet Earth is our shared island. Let us join forces to protect it.
Can Guyana’s racially divisive leadership join forces to protect the nation? Based on their record to date, I think not.
UPDATE: News from Guyana on U.N. World Environment Day, 6 June 2014
“Guyana pays US$3,500 to build one meter (3.28 feet) of sea defense,” Kaieteur News, Guyana, June 6, 2014.