Mahaicony farms under water

Mahaicony residents in the riverain area are engaged again in a battle against flooding which has reached disaster proportions. The water began to rise slowly last Saturday and was still rising when Stabroek News visited on Friday. Most residents of the predominantly farming community have lost their kitchen gardens, fields of cash crops and rice as well as some livestock to the floodwaters. There is nothing now for many of them to live on other than what they already had in stock. This flood follows the one which affected the Mahaica and Mahaicony riverain farmers last January-February after water was released from the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) to take pressure off the dam which was in danger of breaching.

Head of the National Drainage and Irrigation Board (NDIB) Ravi Naraine said on Thursday that there was a weather front in Regions Five and Six which had resulted in water pouring into the Mahaicony Creek from the hilly southern regions of Guyana. This in turn had caused flooding in the Mahaicony riverain district because of the lack of flood control mechanisms there.

On Friday the Government Information Agency (GINA) reported President Jagdeo as advising during a visit to Mortice, Mahaicony, that the flooding situation be taken care of urgently.

Manuwattie Persaud, a farmer at Water Dog Creek who has been forced to move to the upper flat of her home, said she thought that the water was higher than in the January flood. It had risen overnight, she said, and had caught everyone by surprise. Besides her kitchen garden, she had lost millions in livestock. "Yuh can't work how you gun eat?" she queried.

Persaud was of the opinion that they should be provided with dry ground for their cows, "if nothing else."

Pine Ground cattle rancher and rice farmer Sunderlall Arjune, echoed Persaud's sentiments. "In January," he said, "the government destroyed us and did not give us anything; at this moment they destroying us again." He said he and his three brothers owned 72 head of cattle, and he was angry that President Jagdeo did not visit farmers on the creek when he was in the area last Thursday. Jagdeo was at Mortice, Mahaicony where he interfaced with some farmers in the area. But several others claimed they did not know he would be there, and only learnt after the event that local officials had gathered information earlier to report at that meeting.

The high water levels are also bringing the natural world into greater conflict with cultivated areas. Baldeo, a Gordon Table farmer caught an acouri among his pumpkins, while a snake maimed one of Kawal Persaud's cows at Pine Ground.

Jasoda Singh the wife of Balram Singh, a farmer with responsibility for 150 acres of rice complained, "Every two months is flood." Since 'shying' (planting) paddy a month ago they have been pumping their fields day and night to keep the water out of the plots. Balram has built a dam around his house, kitchen garden and part of the rice field, and had borrowed diesel to keep the pumps in operation.

The battle against nature is not easy on the family members' psyche, and Balram's father, who was also a farmer, committed suicide after a nervous breakdown. Balram said his wife cannot sleep at night contemplating the possibility that they might lose their entire rice crop.

Partab Singh of Pine Ground who had also been pumping his fields for 30 days at a cost of 400 gallons of diesel, had finally surrendered to the water, losing 44 bags of paddy and 40 acres of 15 day-old rice. There was four feet of water in the field, he said, and his calf was now swimming in the backdam. He noted that during the floods earlier in the year water had not invaded his yard, but on Friday it was creeping up to his front step.

Like the other residents he now had to survive on goods he had stocked. "People need relief... the little that you got that's it!"

Sookdeo and Annalram Singh, a father and son team whose land was under two feet of water told Stabroek News they had lost rice and chickens that died from cold as the water crept in. Sookdeo said he lost 15 goats, which had drowned in the rising creek. "This is hungry time," he declared.

Their neighbour Kaysarchand Budhram said his creole fowls had died in addition to 30-40 meat birds. "The water too much plenty," he said estimating that it was rising "by 4-5 inches per day."

Fortunately for some like Dilip Sukdeo, a rice farmer of Mora Point who had not begun to plant but had invested in the preparation of his fields, the losses will be less. The government, he said, has got to do something for the farmers who had taken loans from the bank and needed some assistance.

Though it would be difficult for residents to move from the area he did not disagree with the assessment that with the constant flooding there would be "no progress." The flood was a strange occurrence at this time of the year he remarked, "since I know myself we never got a Christmas flood yet."

Cash crop farmer Rakha Singh, like several other people in the area was of the opinion the water was flowing from the EDWC. "This is conservancy water," he said; if it had been rainwater the creek would have been able to handle it.

However, in its press release GINA said that the EDWC had recorded a level of 57.3 gd, and that the discharge of water was continuing into the Demerara River through the five-door sluice at Land of Canaan, as well as at Kofi.

Water Dog Creek farmer Nizam Sukhoo's wife recalling that it was CN Sharma of the Justice For All party who had brought their situation to the attention of the authorities back in 1996 said, "They should give people house lots elsewhere... this is real punishment."

Bara Bara farmer, Mackhrandilal, noted that his fields were located in the D&I area for which they paid rates and taxes and where they got no assistance with irrigation or drainage. In addition he said the creek, which was overgrown with grass, needed cleaning. He related how the contractor working on the weeds had complained that the chemicals used for removing them were harmful to human health. But he said, "the drugs do not affect nobody."

Mackhrandilal told this newspaper he was at that moment attempting to fix a self-acting koker door which was being blocked by grass, even though a ranger patrolled every day. A young Yarow Creek farmer Ravi Khan in a plea to the authorities said, "We need relief immediately." Relief he said should take the form of cow feed, and goods for persons affected by the flood.

"We are the poorer class of people; we depend on the bigger farmers for work as labourers," and if they were affected there would be no employment opportunities and therefore no income.

Notwithstanding the high water levels, GINA on Friday reported the NDIB as saying that flooding in the Mahaicony Creek, Region Five was under control.

GINA said on his visit to Mortice President Jagdeo upon hearing of the plight of rice farmers instructed that the situation be taken care of urgently. He asked Naraine to visit the area and was told by the drainage head that vegetation was choking the Mahaicony Creek.

Farmers were further advised to discuss the issue with the Mahaica- Mahaicony-Abary Agricul-tural Development Authority (MMA-ADA) and the head of state requested that Guyana Rice Development Board officials assist with controlling the weeds. Jagdeo, according to GINA, also told the farmers that their request for a koker to be built in the area would be examined.

Meanwhile, the agency reported the NDIB as saying a mobile pump had been installed at Bellamy Canal, Mahaicony by the MMA-ADA and the clearing of canals within the Basket and Plimper areas by the drainage board and the regional administration is being undertaken.

In addition the NDIB and the region were to collaborate on constructing check structures at the Mortice and Sukdeo canals in the area.