In the past week, governments in the three large southern Caribbean Community nations have spent much of their time battling the COVID-19 pandemic with record numbers of deaths and infections popping up each day for the past month or so.
In two of these nations––Suriname and Trinidad––governments ordered lockdowns or severe restrictions of social and economic activities to stem the tide, while Guyana rolled merrily along, wide open except for a late night curfew, closures of schools except for students about to graduate high school and social distancing measures at state and private agencies which serve the public.
In recent days, however, all three governments have been forced to switch focus to severe flooding caused by a wetter-than-usual mid 2021 rainy season, blamed in part by the La Nina phenomenon that is only now abating according to weather scientists.
In Guyana, President Irfaan Ali said the flooding from days of heavy rainfall towards the end of May and in the first week of June has triggered severe flooding in nine of the 10 administrative regions in the country. Hundreds of farms have been wiped out, inundated with dirty, smelly water which has been on the land for days, topped up by hours of rainfall. Gold and diamond miners have been forced to abandon camps as rivers swelled and as water flooded out open pits. Cattle and poultry farmers in the southeast near Suriname and in the southwest near Brazil have all reported massive losses of livestock, crops and homes. In the Berbice area also southeast of the capital Georgetown, authorities distributed relief hamper packages to residents at roof top level as rivers over topped even as opposition leaders attacked government for allegedly handing out packages mostly to people whom they believed voted for the governing party.
“Many of our brothers and sisters across Guyana are faced with the worst disaster we have ever had, or they have ever had, in the history of our country. I spoke to the people where their entire lives have been destroyed. The scale of the disaster is misunderstood by those of us in Region Four (the capital). And when you speak about the impact I am telling you about the farmer, over the last four generations who had livestock that is no longer there today,” the head of state said after a flying weekend visit to the western regions near Venezuela.
But even as the weekend was fairly sunny, the local weather service warned citizens in Guyana and Suriname to brace for additional bouts of heavy rainfall, reminding them than patterns are changing and that the current bad weather could extend up to mid-August, having commenced back in April.
“If we look at the figures for the past three months of March, April and May, we see that it has been relatively wetter in the coastal plain than the four-year average,” said Sukarni Sallons-Mitro, the head of the weather agency in Suriname.
Large areas of the coast along the east-west corridor, the east near French Guiana and in the southern interior near Brazil have suffered from severe flooding. Relief agencies also distributed food and other hampers to distressed residents.
International scientists have reported that some of the largest rivers in South America like the Rio Negro, the Amazon and the Solimoes rivers have risen to record levels with the Negro cresting at 29.98 meters, inundating dozens of communities and dumping excess waters in rivers across the border with Guyana and Suriname.
In Trinidad, the weather service Monday walked back severe rainfall warnings but like its neighbors to the south, warned the country for a wetter than usual 2021.
Villages in the low lying south and central Trinidad had been under water for several days. In some southern districts, residents were pooling resources to pay for cleaning of small, clogged up rivers as they prepare for the next deluge.