...says no venture too expensive to protect citizens
President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday defended the economic and technical feasibility of the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) Northern Relief Channel as he officially commissioned the start of the construction of the Government-funded project, slated to be completed in 24 months.
He said that in addition to sparing the people of Mahaica, Mahaicony and Abary a yearly flooding when there is heavy rainfall and the threat of overtopping of the conservancy, the project is important to long term adaptation to the challenges of climate change.
A ceremony took place on the dam of the EDWC at Hope that marked the launch of Agriculture Month 2010 and the start of the US$15 million project. The President, who arrived on the conservancy by helicopter, gave the feature address.
“I am very happy to take part in this ceremony...a very important ceremony for us all. For many years now I have been visiting the Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary areas. I remember as a young Minister visiting with Cheddi Jagan and I have seen the hardships that people who live in these communities have faced because of flooding, and with no possibility of changing that circumstance in the long run because there was no solution,” he said.
“If the dams are threatened, then we don’t have a choice, we have to release the water. If you don’t release the water then the damage could become catastrophic. The dams could break and then you can’t control it. [It would] flood the Mahaica Mahaicony Abary area...it would flood the East Coast [of Demerara], it would flood Georgetown...with very little possibility of remedying that,” he said.
He reminded those gathered what had happened in Cane Grove when the dam of the conservancy broke and how difficult it was to retrieve the situation and how long people took to recover from the consequences.
"So today is a very special day for me, because it marks the beginning of the finding of a long term solution to people’s problems. It is first of all about the hardships that people face. What has humbled me in many ways over these years [is that] when I visit these communities that were under water, where most of the crops were gone and the livelihood of the people who live in these communities gone, what impressed me was their resilience, their kindness, their generosity in the face of adversity...they were generous in spirit and in material ways...they were asking if we had something to eat...offering us things when their kitchen was under water,” the President said.
He said that he saw the building of the outlet not only as a technical solution to a problem, but also about changing the circumstances of a people who suffered for decades, because they were no solutions to the problems that they faced.
“I am pleased that when this project is completed it will help to change the circumstances of those people and they can look forward to a period of stability and accumulation of wealth, and they don’t have to worry every rainy season that all that they have invested would disappear because of flooding. We may not be able to prevent flooding totally, but we may be able to alleviate it by not putting the water from this conservancy into their community,” he said.
The President said that many people have questioned the economic feasibility of the project, saying that the Government should not be building it because it is too expensive. “Nothing is too expensive if it will change people’s lives, and large numbers of people. No project can be too expensive. It might be difficult to finance, but it can’t be too expensive,” he said.
Making an anecdotal assessment of the cost/benefit of the project, the President said that if half of the areas available for rice cultivation are lost to flooding, the income lost will amount to about US$15 million, about the same as the cost of the project.
“This project will be a feasible one. But we have made a significant departure here. This is probably for the longest while the biggest project that we will fund directly from the budget, we are not going to get a loan for this, there will be no foreign grant for this, and the only reason that we can do this is because we have changed our country in a way where today the budget has the capacity to finance projects that are important to our people, whether in agriculture, education or health care...I wanted to make sure that this project gets started and I set aside the money before I go (leave office), and today we have all the money in place so I am extremely pleased with that,” he said.
The President said although it took a little longer than anticipated, it is vital that the technical work be done thoroughly. “I want the facility to work when completed,” he said. “The technical work was vital and I am very pleased that we did not compromise on it,” he said.