Gradual inland relocation part of plans to counter threat of rising sea-level

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By Vishani Ragobeer 

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Guyana’s low-lying coastal plain, where most Guyanese live and work, is increasingly threatened by rising sea-levels and flooding and Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh says that encouraging more inland development is part of the government’s efforts to counter the threat.

According to a new report from the World Bank group entitled, “360° Resilience: A Guide to Prepare the Caribbean for a New Generation of Shocks,” Guyana is expected to have the second largest average shoreline retreat by 2050.

By 2050, because of the harsh impacts of climate change, the shoreline (or coastline) in several Caribbean countries is expected to retreat, or be covered by the sea at varying degrees.

These include Suriname (with a shoreline retreat of about 71 meters), Guyana (65 meters), Trinidad and Tobago (53 meters), and Belize (46 meters).

While responding to questions from the News Room on Wednesday, Dr. Singh stated that Guyana’s coastal vulnerability has been long known. And he reminded reporters that for generations, Guyana has been struggling to maintain a literal concrete wall as part of its sea defense.

Senior Minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance Dr. Ashni Singh (Photo: News Room/ November 10, 2021)

That concrete wall is more popularly known as the sea wall, a 280-mile structure that separates the coast from the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to this sea wall, Guyana has crafted a system of drainage and irrigation. Still, with the worsening threat of climate change, Guyana’s coast remains vulnerable to flooding.

“…We will also, of course, progressively address the question of moving inland, not in a wholesale manner but by starting to encourage more development inland,” the Senior Minister said.

But the question of moving further inland is not a simple one. Georgetown, Guyana’s capital city, is the country’s business hub and administrative centre; it is located on that low-lying coast. But wider, the coast itself is Guyana’s most populated natural region and where much of the country’s economic activity takes place.

That means that the local authorities cannot simply decide to relocate everyone and everything from the coast further inland. Besides, this coast is now being touted as a potential logistics hub for South America.

But President Dr. Irfaan Ali has long touted the creation of ‘Silica City’ a new city in Guyana’s hilly sand and clay region, further inland. On Wednesday, Dr. Singh said that technical works here have commenced.

Georgetown, the capital city of Guyana, is situated on Guyana’s low-lying plain that is below sea-level (Photo: News Room)

Still Dr. Singh explained, “Moving away from the coast in a wholesale manner is going to be prohibitively costly and complicated.”

Meanwhile, the World Bank report stated that many Caribbean countries are not effectively using urban planning to strategically manage urban development to increase resilience. This is due to a myriad of reasons including insufficient human capital, skills to support the planning process and other resources.

Importantly, a high-level assessment showed that countries like Dominica, Guyana, and Suriname could have significant investment needs for coastal protection. This is driven by maintenance costs as much as new investments, the bank said.

Already, Dr. Singh says that sea defence costs the country millions, even billions of dollars annually.

The vulnerability of Guyana’s coast, coupled with the high cost of sea defense and coastal protection, is part of the reason why Guyana continues to champion climate change mitigation efforts at the international level.

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