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Dry weather taking toll on food, water in Rupununi

One of several dry wells in Lethem, Rupununi

Many wells in the Rupununi have dried up and several villages in the north are running very low on food due to the prolonged dry spell caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, residents said on Sunday.

The Amerindian Affairs Ministry and other government agencies are said to be watching the situation very closely and are prepared to shuttle emergency relief supplies to affected communities.

In Lethem, the administrative capital of Region Nine- Upper Takatu/ Upper Essequibo, residents confirmed that the level of the Takatu River has dropped considerably and so is the water-table.

They said there has been hardly any rainfall for the past eight months, resulting in many wells running dry for the first time in decades. Lethem businesswoman, Shirley Melville, believes that the water shortage is due to a combination of the extensive dry weather and increased consumption by several businesses. “This water table and many wells have dried up. It could be due to more consumption by businesses such as more wash bays,” says Melville whose wells in her yard have run dry for the first time in 40 years.

The Lethem Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) is expected to conduct an assessment of the situation in the township later this week.

Melville acknowledges that the Guyana Water Inc (GWI) continues to pump water to residents and businesses in Lethem, but the quality is not wholesome as it leaves a whitish residue on washed items.

While Aishalton, located in the deep south of Rupununi, appeared to have been brought back from the brink due to three days of persistent rainfall several weeks ago, residents there fear that the hot sunshine that has since followed will dry creeks and wells on which they depend for the valuable liquid.

“If the sun continues at the rate as it is, we will back to where we were,” said a resident who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Across at Annai, North Rupununi, the crisis brought about by the hot weather is deepening on a daily basis.  Residents there and in surrounding villages say water is in very few wells, forcing them to trek some distance to the Rupununi River. The Aranaputa Primary and Nursery Schools there have been without water for three weeks.  A nearby resident, Virgil Harding, has been supplying limited amounts of water to the nursery school to assist with the pupils’ personal hygiene.

“It’s no use you go dig further down you will not receive anything. It is definitely an extremely dry spell that we are experiencing,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.

Harding said his community and 15 others in the North Rupununi are already struggling for food because cassava plants have dried up and it is impossible to plant vegetables. “The young cassava is being parched. It is being pre-cooked before it is ready to be reaped,” he said. Because the river is drying up, Harding says a lot of the fishes- Lukanani, Pacoo and Tiger Fish- have worms in their tissue.

So how are they making out for food? Harding says residents depend on chicken from Brazil and intensified hunting of animals that are surfacing more and more in their search for water.

“We do a little bit more intense hunting. You might be lucky to catch a few deer or wild hog because they are looking for water,” he said, adding that residents had long expected dry weather because monkeys and other animals were increasingly being seen in their communities.

The prospects of the cottage industries earning cash from peanuts, peanut butter, cassava bread, farine and cashew nuts are also bleak. Harding explains that peanuts are usually planted now for harvesting in November.

He says the plight of the villagers has been reported to the Region Nine administration but no visible action has been taken.

Repeated efforts to contact the Region Nine Chairman and Executive Officer were unsuccessful. The Civil Defence Commission (CDC) has not been notified by its cells on the ground that there is an emergency so that logistical and coordination arrangement for relief can kick in, a CDC official said Sunday. “We at CDC have not been asked to get involved as yet. What has happened is that we have established in some of the regions, a regional system to deal with their localised problems. When they recognise that they are unable to do that they will shout upwards but so far they have not done so,” Deputy Head of CDC, Col. Francis Abraham told Demerara Waves.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, Nigel Dharamlall told Demerara Waves Online News that during his visit last week to North Rupununi, he gleaned that there was “uneasiness” about the dry spell but no one complained about food shortages.  He acknowledged seeing the impact that the dry weather has been having on cassava plants.

Dharamlall assured that government was on standby to provide emergency food supplies and planting materials. “If and when that time comes, as usual, the government through the Amerindian Affairs Ministry, will chip in to relieve the situation by providing where necessary food stuff and planting materials,” he said.

The Permanent Secretary said five drip irrigation systems for which monies were not approved by the Opposition could have helped to provide water to cassava farms. “The villages are aware of areas that they can source water from but it will be difficult,” he said.

Back in 1998, Guyana had declared a national emergency because an El Nino-induced drought had devastated major crops like rice, sugar and vegetables as well as gold production and forestry.

Then, Guyana had sounded an international appeal for assistance to purchase planting materials, food and other emergency supplies.