Guyana: Aggressive development plans for hinterland water sector

News and Press Release
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-Minister Ali, officials assure drought affected Region One communities

Georgetown, GINA, April 1, 2010

The ever changing weather pattern continues to present new challenges to the availability of potable water as the impending climate change phenomenon modifies existing local environmental conditions, bringing many hardships to several Amerindian communities of the hinterland region.

In line with immediate development plans to bring relief to residents of affected villages, Minister of Housing and Water Irfaan Ali along with Permanent Secretary of his Ministry, Emil McGarrell and the Guyana Water Incorporated's (GWI's) Hinterland Manager, Akram Hussein over the period March 28 to 31 travelled to several communities including Barabina, Mabaruma, White Water, Kamwatta, Wauna, Tobago Hill, Wanaina, Hosororo, Koberimo, Kokerite (Mabaruma Sub-districts), Kumaka, Sebai, Port Kaituma, Arakaka, Matthews Ridge, Eclipse Falls and 4 Miles (Matarkai Sub-districts), Region One. There they sought to garner feedback and solutions from residents as it relates to the effects of the prevailing El niño conditions and to update them about development plans for the Region.

Joining the team were Region One Chairman, Fermin Singh, Toshaos and other personnel of GWI. The group also inspected several long standing water supply sources which will be rehabilitated in the coming months, as well as outlined plans for those which will be constructed to assist the communities during the prolonged dry spell.

Primary concerns

Residents during their interaction with the Minister and team voiced their concerns related to the effects of the condition on water supply and other issues which will be addressed at the Cabinet level.

They pointed out that since the advent of El niño several creeks and water facilities have dried up posing tremendous hardship to access the commodity for consumption and farming activities leading residents to ask the Minister and team to provide immediate interventions.

Combating Climate change

Minister Ali pointed out that the visit is a result of government's commitment and concern over the present water situation in the Region which is caused by the current El niño condition that affects not only Guyana but other countries such as Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.

"In Trinidad they have issued an order to close down some of the bottling plants, some communities are receiving rationed water once per week and in Jamaica it is just as difficult. It is not only Guyana that is going through this so it calls for a lot of understanding, compromise and working together from all us to rally through this period," he explained.

He noted that the region is regarded as one of the areas where the effects of El niño have been intense and have brought tremendous hardship to the people and as requested by His Excellency Bharrat Jagdeo to conduct an assessment to determine the areas that are affected by the drought.

While highlighting that the conditions will continue to challenge Guyana in various forms, the Minister reiterated to the communities the country's position in developing the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).

The LCDS is of great importance and is designed not only to save the planet but is one that is designed to meet development aspirations of country, people and the utilization of the country's natural resources to generate revenue to be utilized for the improvement of the lives and conditions of the people.

In recent months consultations and public awareness activities in Amerindian and Hinterland communities were conducted to highlight the impact of climate change, and mitigation measures that Amerindian communities and Guyana can adapt to combat climate change while preserving the use of Guyana's forest resources. More than 3,300 people across villages participated in the consultations.

"The LCDS is about the future, it is about vision...the time has come in Guyana where we have to think beyond ourselves we now have to think about our future our community about moving forward together as one people so that our country can grow and we can realize the true and full potential that we have in this country," the Housing and Water Minister told the communities.

Previous policy initiatives

In relation to the investments which were undertaken in the Region over the past four years, the Housing Minister pointed out that more than $94M was expended in the water sector for the region.

This encompassed the digging of more than 60 wells and upgrading of distribution systems to benefit over 3000 residents.

Despite these interventions, communities continue to face the difficulty that the threat of El niño poses since many people depend heavily on ponds and creeks for water. Some of the sources have been either become salted or contaminated, Minister Ali said. Others have dried out.

Development plan- drought hit communities

Residents were further informed about project plans which will be undertaken to bring immediate relief to their communities during the long dry season.

Alluding to the investments which will be undertaken this year for hinterland settlements, Minister Ali stated that the GWI will be installing more than 34 solar pump systems across the various Amerindian communities.

He apprised residents at the various communities he visited that the investments in the water sector for hinterland communities are totally subsidised by government.

In the Mabaruma sub-districts several water supply systems will be rehabilitated and constructed and several solar pump systems will be installed while in the Matarkai sub-districts such as Port Kaituma and Arakaka an exploration assessment for the drilling of wells will be conducted and a new spring will be dug at Eclipse falls to help alleviate water issues being experienced by the residents at present.

An additional $700,000 to $800,000 will be further expended to upgrade networks and install stand pipes in areas where there is none.

They were told by the Minister that over the next three years in line with the GWI's hinterland water strategy, the utility company would be expending an additional $400M to further improve the water situation in hinterland communities.

This year, the GWI would be expending more than $100M in the hinterland communities of which $60M will be utilised from the budget and through support grants from the Japanese government and the agency's own resources, the Minister explained.

The investments, he said will include the installation of 150 solar pumping systems at a cost of $130M, the construction of over 120 overhead storage facilities/trestles throughout the hinterland to have gravity feed to stand pipes at a cost of $250M, the construction of 40 to 50 more deep wells at a cost of $16M and the installation of a treatment facility (community sand filter) at Port Kaituma at an approximate cost of $8M.

"These are investments that we are committed to making in the hinterland community so that we can bring benefit to you," Minister Ali told residents.

Meanwhile, Hinterland Manager Akram Hussein explained that providing access to potable water is part of the agency's mandate and responsibility to ensure that residents benefit from the commodity.

He noted that since some programmes have not been provided for in the sector's budgetary allocation and that some monies for other projects will have to be cut back to provide interventions for communities that are in urgent need.

Residents' feedback on interventions

Toshao, White Water, Earnest Samuel who welcomed the water sector interventions noted that at present communities are affected by the current weather condition and that it has been posing tremendous problems at schools since there isn't an adequate supply of water.

He noted that the community is grateful for the interventions (water trestles, wells, hand pumps) which will be made as it would not only benefit the community, but other satellite areas that are not having access to proper water supply.

"We are thankful that the Minister has visited us and given us those wonderful words and we do hope that it would be coming through so that we can all achieve these things," Samuel said.

Another resident, Claver Thom, said that the intervention would be of great importance since the community has been suffering from water shortage during the current dry season.

She expressed the hope that new water systems will be installed as soon as possible to aid the schools 'hotmeal' programme.

Worrel Benjamin, Counsellor of Sebai noted that in the past communities never were provided the opportunity to interact with Ministers and have their concerns addressed.

He stated that since residents were given a chance to voice their concerns and provided with information as it relates to developmental programmes for the community, that signifies that there will be development.

Alluding to the LCDS, Benjamin is of the view that it is a wonderful initiative that the government has embarked upon to uplift the standards of people in the country.

"It will benefit the entire country. I think I think it's a wonderful discovery that the government did in implementing the system and I am in support of it 100 percent," he said.

In the coming months the Minister and team will be visiting other drought hit communities including Regions 7, 8 and 9 as part of the Ministry's ongoing response to address the prolonged El niño conditions and provide access to potable water to residents.