Residents in southern Guyana are preparing for a severe drought caused by what weather experts say is El Nino.
Lethem resident, Clairmont Lyte said in a release that residents of Lethem, Rupununi are being kept abreast of the situation by an “El Nino Committee”. With the Takatu River drying up and the water-table falling due to the prolonged dry spell, he said residents of Lethem and St.Ignatius are being urged to conserve water and efforts are being made to obtain a special variety of cassava that would mature for harvest in about three months.
“It is expected that pipe-borne water might reach critical levels in another two or three months. If this happens, then Lethem will experience a severe water shortage from January to April next year,” said Lye.
With farmers already complaining that the unusual high temperatures is adversely affecting their crops, he said supplies of a different cassava variety are being sourced from neighbouring Brazil. “The Committee is also making efforts to source a short-term variety of cassava out of Brazil for farmers to plant without delay in low-lying areas,” he said.
Members of the “El Nino Committee” are Regional Chairman, Bryan Allicock, Regional Chairman; Rene Edwards of Conservation International; Roger King of Rupununi Chamber of Commerce; and Clairmont Lye of Beacon Foundation. Government agencies are being alerted to the situation.
Lye said several signs point to “an extreme situation in coming months.” “The level of the Rupununi River is over fifteen feet below its normal level for this time of the year, and sandbanks have already started to show in the Takutu River at Lethem at what is traditionally the end of the rainy season.”
An official of the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) said Minister of State, Joseph Harmon was being kept abreast of the situation.
Weather forecasters here confirmed to Demerara Waves Online News that the hot, dry spell is the result of a mild El Nino. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Hydro-meteorological Department have been silent about the dry weather conditions.
Lethem’s population is about 5,000 persons and the entire Region Nine (Upper Takatu-Upper Essequibo) has about 24,000 persons.
Back in 1997-1998, Guyana experienced the worst drought in its history, a situation that had forced people in parts of Region Nine to eat shrubs. A national state of emergency had been declared and international relief was sought.
An estimated US$22 million was lost in rice production, US$7 million in sugar and a 40 percent decline in gold production, in addition to losses in livestock and crops such as cassava. Gold is mined mainly in rivers but most of them had dried up and there was little access to mining areas by boat.