Mahaica farmers lashed again by flood

By Andre Haynes, Starbroek News


Farmers have suffered severe losses in the wake of the return of floodwaters in the Mahaica Creek area.

Although the water has begun to recede many still fear that the worst is yet to come as it conjures memories of the massive flooding that hit many areas in January.
Joe Hook, Grass Hook, Little Biaboo, Big Biaboo and Handsome Tree are among the communities that are the worst affected, and despite the official explanations many residents do not believe that rainfall is solely responsible for the rising water levels that threaten their livelihood.

There was a pronounced feeling of resentment yesterday in some of the communities where residents feel that their plight has been overlooked and even forgotten though the dangers of flooding to the area have been known for quite some time.

The Chairman of Region Five (Mahaica-West Berbice), Harrinarine Baldeo, visited some of the areas on Monday. Yesterday, a team from the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MMA-ADA) also visited and a medical team from the region went to communities to conduct a preliminary assessment of the health risks posed by the floodwater. An official told Stabroek News that the region planned to hold clinics in the community today, during which it will distribute drugs for flood-related illnesses.

Rice farmer G. Maraj was making his way to his Handsome Tree farm yesterday after spending two weeks in the hospital. He said the reports that he received while in hospital were sufficient enough to frighten him about the real possibility of losing his entire crop again. In January he lost over 250 acres of rice. This time he stands to lose a little more than 300 acres, which he has tried to protect as much as he can.

"They tell me but like I still can't understand," he told Stabroek News under overcast skies. Between January and now he has spent about $1.5M to excavate his farmland to safeguard against repeat flooding, but by yesterday he had already lost 25 acres and he feared that he was in danger of losing more. He said the excavation work done on the farm would only allow for the protection of some 130 acres. He did the work himself and though he blames the region for the poor drainage, he has almost given up any hope that it will try to aid the people. "I don't even want to hear anything about the region right now," he said. As Maraj made his way home, he discovered that his 80-year-old father's mixed vegetable farm was under water. Maraj was afraid that upcoming spring tides might make things worse for both of them. He was upset at the region for not doing enough to improve drainage in the area while also neglecting the stretch of roadway that runs from the public road to Mahaica Creek, which he said has deteriorated so much that farmers are unable to get tractors that they need into the area.

But while there is still some hope for Maraj, there is none for some cash crop farmers, like Sugrim Sarju at Grass Hook, who have lost everything. According to him the rains did make the water rise, albeit to moderate levels. He said that it is during the last two weeks that the water level rapidly increased and totally submerged his crops though there was no increased rainfall. The water therefore had to be coming from somewhere else. "Time like now is picking (harvest) time," Sarju said, while gravely surveying the inundated watermelon patch just a few feet away from his house. For him, this is the third time for this year (following January and July rains) that floodwaters have destroyed his harvest and he is now giving serious thought to leaving the place he has called home for roughly 50 years. He said, "I am planning on making a move." He was not alone. Others also felt that it was futile to continue planting in the area while flooding is likely whenever it rains. Like Nazmoon Baksh, who was afraid that the flooding might see a repeat of the catastrophe earlier this year. "You get discouraged from this place," she told Stabroek News, "by the time you plant to reap, you get flood again, and when this gone (points to her bora vines) where you going to get money?" Baksh was angry at what she says was the poor treatment of cash crop farmers as opposed to the special treatment she believes that the rice farmers got the last go-round. She says that she received only $10,000 as part of the flood relief package but she said it did not do to cover her costs for seeds, fertiliser and drugs. Others, she said, especially rice farmers, received much more. Others in the area confirmed this, although everyone said that what they received was not enough.

Another cash crop farmer Roopnarine Doodnauth lives at Joe Hook with his wife and their three children. He lost all of the bora vines in his patch except one.

The water level was so high in the area that it covered his yard, and the muddy surface yesterday bore testament to what had happened. He said he was forced to kill some of his chickens because there was nowhere else to put them. "We don't know what will happen next year," he said, while thinking about what the new year might hold for him and his small family. Already he knows that he will have to find another job as he does not foresee replanting before at least another month, the rains allowing. In the meanwhile, he is depending on his savings to see him through.

At Big Biaboo, there was fish swimming around in the homes of some that were still under water. Shamir Husain, 75, and his wife, Zelaika Husain, 72, were relatively lucky, their house being on higher ground than their neighbours. But, like everyone else, they were trying to save what remained of their crops after the water receded. "We have not reaped anything for the year.

And now that we try, the water come back," Zelaika said. Shamir said he had to continually pump the water from the patches at the back of his house to ensure that the roots did not rot while the water swamped their land. He lost some of his young plantain suckers as well as patches of bora, eddoes, squash and melons. Both he and his wife doubted that the rains could be solely responsible for the water levels that they had seen. "They keep saying to us that it is rainfall, but how you can tell we that? We, who born and grow in this area. I living here for 54 years," his wife said.

At Little Biaboo the situation was no better for Dulmattie Persaud and her family after the water reached levels comparable with the January floods until it started to recede yesterday. She said she lost carilla and plantain suckers as well as bora, pepper and tomato plants as the water rose. She said the water had even seeped onto the ground floor of her house. Her biggest worry now is how long the water would take to recede having estimated that it took more than two months the last time. Even so, she said the place was muddy afterward and it was virtually impossible to begin planting anew. For her neighbours, the situation was very much the same.

Some felt that the people in the area were suffering for the mere fact that they were mainly poor cash crop farmers, instead of large rice farmers. One woman said as a result of the response she was not going to vote next year. "We poor people won't vote next year.

Let the rich ones vote." Indeed, the Husains complained that while some people got up to two times and three times what had been promised, they did not get a single penny. Neighbours who had received some money confirmed this. Sarju told Stabroek News that the President himself, during a visit after the January flood, had promised that the Mahaica Creek farmers would receive a "special package." "That is one promise that was not fulfilled," he said.

A statement from the Government Information Agency (GINA) last night reported that the National Drainage and Irrigation Board had said that flooding in the area was due to "intense" rainfall in the upper parts of the Mahaicony Creek.

GINA also quoted Human Services Minister, Bibi Shadick as saying there was no severe case of flooding in the Abary area which she visited yesterday. GINA also said that Works Minister Harry Narine Nawbatt and Chairman of the MMA-ADA, Rudolph Gajraj confirmed that the Mahaica area was not severely affected by flooding.

"We went right down to the end of the Mahaica and we have observed some flooding had taken place but at this point in time, I don't think it has reached a critical situation which requires urgent and immediate assistance", the minister told GINA.

He said the situation would be monitored on a daily basis.