Former San Juan/Barataria MP Dr Fuad Khan has recounted previous flooding problems in his former constituency, after farmers broke the Caroni River banks to get water for crops in the dry season and when diesel was stolen from pumps in the area.
Khan spoke about the issues after recent floods devastated that area and adjoining communities.
Former St George County Agricultural officers also recounted how squatting and “dangerous illegal businesses” became rampant in the low-lying Bamboo I, II and III areas over the 1980s to 1990s – but noted that officers were threatened, even at gunpoint, when they entered the areas to advise residents against the dangers of building near the river.
“So why this ‘drama’ now when we tried to beg, appeal and warn people against building there and we were chased out?” the officers asked.
Khan, preparing hampers to send to his former constituency, spoke about the El Socorro South, San Juan area which was particularly affected.
Khan explained, “Many who did farming, when the river was low, would break the bank to get water for their crops and didn’t fill it back securely. So, when rain fell and the river ‘came down’, the areas where the bank was broken, flooded villages.
“The other problem is, some people would steal the diesel from pumps needed to pump out the water. Pump parts were also stolen. So, pumps often weren’t working. I used to get that problem and we had to fix it, sometimes I used my own money to fix it.”
“When I was House Speaker in the Panday government and we had flooding, I told him the front of the river mouth needed dredging. Mr Panday got it done,” Khan said, displaying a picture of the river mouth which was dredged and is now clogged with mud.
Khan said those who built homes on the “riverbank” were born and grew up there, “but maybe they should prepare to put their house on stilts like in Guyana.”
“And if you take issue with them, you have to take equal issue with people building on the hillsides and the quarrying that’s going on there, which is causing the hillsides to come down when rains fall.”
Meanwhile, the former St George County Agricultural officers said the flooding made them recall the warnings against dangerous land practices which they tried to give Bamboo residents over the years, when those lands were designated non-residential and non-agricultural.
“Suddenly, squatting became rampant. As forcefully as the State Lands unit tried to halt things, it was impossible. People came in droves, never heeding the pertinent advice from government then about flooding possibilities and land stabilisation capabilities.
“They set up residence and dangerous businesses. It became very problematic: extension agents and State Lands officers, upon visiting the areas, were often threatened with their lives. So why the hullabaloo now? The goose has come home to roost.
“Officers feared to enter Bamboo due to the kinds of activities there. Plus, there was also another area near Mt St Benedict where cars were being assembled, but that was dealt with.”
Another County officer added, “The real story of today’s floods is that Bamboo I, II and III were bad situations then, waiting to happen for residents down the line.”