Guyana’s Billion-Dollar National Disaster: The May-June 2021 Floods

Flooding Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, Guyana, June 2021. (Office of the President of Guyana)

Guyana’s 2021 rainy season is off to a catastrophic start. Tropical waves embedded within the Intertropical Convergence Zone resulted in heavy rainfall during May 2021 and continued into June. Major flooding across the country resulted in Guyana’s president, His Excellency Mohammed Irfan Ali, declaring a National Disaster on June 10th, 2021.

Flooding Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, Guyana, June 2021. (Office of the President of Guyana)
Flooding Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, Guyana, June 2021. (Office of the President of Guyana)

Countrywide Impact

Guyana's CDC report on households across the country affected by the May-June 2021 floods.
Guyana’s CDC report on households across the country affected by the May-June 2021 floods.

Recent estimates suggest between 7,000 and 8,000 homes have now been damaged. More than 29,000 households across 300 communities in Guyana have been affected by the floods. Remarkably, there has been no deaths in the country recorded to date due to flooding.

The flood event has been designated at Level 2 countrywide, meaning it is within the national capacity to manage the flood. However, different administrative regions of the country have varying disaster levels.

Despite Guyana’s situation being classified as Level 2, the impact of the flood in the regions varies, with regions 1, 3, 4, 8, and 9 is at Level 2 while regions 2, 5, 7, and 10 are classified as Level 3.

Regions 1 (Barima-Waini), 3 (Pomeroon-Supenaam), 4 (Demerara-Mahaica), 8 (Potaro-Siparuni), and 9 (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) are at Level 2, given the national capacity to manage the impact, while regions 2 (Pomeroon-Supenaam), 5 (Mahaica-Berbice), 6 (East Berbice Corentyne), 7 (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), and 10 (Upper Demerara-Upper Berbice) are classified as Level 3, based on the magnitude of the flood.

Satellite-detected surface waters in Guyana as observed from a Joint VIIRS-ABI flood product acquired on 8th June 2021. Within the analyzed cloud-free zones of about 140,000 square kilometers, a total of about 2,000 square kilometers of lands appear to be flooded. The water extent appears to have decreased by about 1,000 square kilometers since 6th June 2021. About 30,000 people are potentially exposed or living close to flooded areas. The potentially exposed population is mainly located in Region 6 with approximately 10,000 people and Region 2 & 5 with approximately 6,000 people each. (UNITAR-UNOSAT)
Satellite-detected surface waters in Guyana as observed from a Joint VIIRS-ABI flood product acquired on 8th June 2021. Within the analyzed cloud-free zones of about 140,000 square kilometers, a total of about 2,000 square kilometers of lands appear to be flooded. The water extent appears to have decreased by about 1,000 square kilometers since 6th June 2021. About 30,000 people are potentially exposed or living close to flooded areas. The potentially exposed population is mainly located in Region 6 with approximately 10,000 people and Region 2 & 5 with approximately 6,000 people each. (UNITAR-UNOSAT)

“The worst disaster we’ve ever had”

Some houses that are affected by flooding in Region Seven (Office of the President)
Some houses that are affected by flooding in Region Seven (Office of the President of Guyana)

According to Guyana’s President, “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 in Jawalla and Kamarang, where their entire lives have been destroyed. Everything they worked for all their life has disappeared.”

President Ali also added that hundreds of houses had been ruined while thousands of farms have been obliterated. While touring the country last week, Ali explained, “This is going to take some doing to recover from; mining camps are empty, infrastructure in some instances, destroyed. Seeing it firsthand gives you the full extent of the gravity of the situation that you’re faced with right now.”

Satellite detected water extent over Jawalla and Imbaimadai town along the Mazaruni river as of 9th June 2021, Region 7 - Cuyuni-Mazaruni, Guyana (UNOSAT)
Satellite detected water extent over Jawalla and Imbaimadai town along the Mazaruni river as of 9th June 2021, Region 7 – Cuyuni-Mazaruni, Guyana (UNOSAT)

Regional Executive Officer (REO) of Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam), Devanand Ramdatt said, “We’ve never seen anything like this before. The rate at which the entire Pomeroon was flooded is something that even the elderly people are saying that they’ve never seen anything like this before.” Compared to the 2005 floods that also devastated Guyana, he said that the 2005 floods are nothing compared to the recent and ongoing floods.

Across other regions, the sentiments remain the same. For Region Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni), one of the more severely affected areas is Bartica, with several avenues in the town underwater. Region Seven’s chairman, Kenneth Williams said, “Persons are attesting that it is the worst flood in history. This is a combination of several factors – spring tide, heavy rainfalls, and climate change.”

According to the Guyana Chronicle, the Ministry of Public Works has completed a preliminary assessment of the infrastructural damage caused by the ongoing countrywide floods. Subject minister, Juan Edghill said the recorded damage has amounted to billions of dollars.

Floodwater destroys a makeshift bridge in Region 8, Guyana

According to a joint statement from the Civil Defence Commission, Ministry of Health (MOH), Regional Democratic Council (RDC), and Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), in El Passo floodwaters to 15 feet resulting in the contamination of drinking water, damage to food, household items, boats, and engines, impacting nearly 200 people in this area.

The Response

A house in Potaro-Siparuni (Region Eight) inundated as a result of severe flooding (CDC)
A house in Potaro-Siparuni (Region Eight) inundated as a result of severe flooding (CDC)

Over the last several days, Guyana’s Civil Defence Commission (CDC) has been receiving and verifying reports of severe flooding. Particularly, this is ongoing across communities with water entering homes, livestock, and domestic animals in distress and farmlands inundated and resulting in crop damages.

Mining operations completely flooded in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) (CDC)
Mining operations completely flooded in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) (CDC)

From May 18th through June 11th, 2021, a total of 17,829 cleaning hampers and 20,535 food hampers have been distributed across Guyana as a form of emergency relief. Shelters have been activated in Regions 9 and 10, where there are 198 people temporarily residing. Emergency shelters are expected to be activated in Region 2 and 5, in the Pomeroon River and at Gordon Table, respectively.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) has provided 500 cots with the support of the Regional Security System over 3 and 6 June. The cots were a donation from the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Moses Forde’s shop at Jeep Landing, Kwakwani near the Berbice River in Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice)
Moses Forde’s shop at Jeep Landing, Kwakwani near the Berbice River in Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice)

Barbados has pledged 500 military cots to arrive in Guyana on 21 June. Additional relief items specifically 1200 blankets; 2500 N95 masks; 480 Hand sanitizers; 1000 mini hygiene kits and 65 family necessity kits will arrive with the shipment of military cots.

The National Disaster Coordinator for Trinidad and Tobago, the sub-regional focal point for the Southern Sub-Region, has been briefed on the situation and stands ready to support Guyana as required.

Flooding Pomeroon-Supenaam Region, Guyana, June 2021. (Office of the President of Guyana)
Flooding Pomeroon-Supenaam Region, Guyana, June 2021. (Office of the President of Guyana)

The Guyanese government will be approaching the National Assembly on Monday seeking a GYD 10 billion (TTD 321,382,476) supplementary budget to aid its ongoing flood-relief efforts. The financing will be used to repair infrastructure, specifically roads and bridges that have been damaged by the nationwide flooding. Support will also be given to farmers, miners, and families whose livelihoods were destroyed by the natural disaster.

Kwakwani, Region 10 is still inundated by flood waters as the rains and river over-topping continue. An aerial assessment of the village and surrounding areas was conducted by the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) on Saturday 12th June 2021.
Kwakwani, Region 10 is still inundated by floodwaters as the rains and river over-topping continue. An aerial assessment of the village and surrounding areas was conducted by the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) on Saturday 12th June 2021.

More rains forecast for Guyana

Spatial comparison of rainfall across Guyana for May 2021 compared to a climatologically average May, showing significantly higher rainfall across central and northeastern Guyana (CDC)
Spatial comparison of rainfall across Guyana for May 2021 compared to a climatologically average May, showing significantly higher rainfall across central and northeastern Guyana (CDC)

According to Guyana’s CDC, compared to May’s rainfall average for 1991-2020, May 2021 had a significant increase in rainfall across the country.

The rainfall total for May 2021 was 607.7 millimeters, the second-highest rainfall total for May across the country since 1981. The latest seasonal rainfall outlook suggests above normal rainfall can be expected through Guyana from June to August 2021.

From June through August, an increase in the number of wet days (days where more than 10 millimeters of rainfall falls) and 7-day extreme wet spells is expected. Flooding remains a concern for June into mid-July, especially in areas that are already underwater.

Floods Extend To Suriname, Brazil

Since the past month, heavy rain has been affecting parts of Santa Catarina State (southern Brazil), causing floods and landslides. According to DG ECHO and Civil Defence authorities, at least one person has died, and 163 people have been displaced across 23 municipalities that have been affected by either flood, flash floods, or landslides. A state of emergency has been issued for six municipalities in coastal Santa Catarina. Light to moderate rain is forecast over Santa Catarina on 11-12 June. Across the state of Amazonas, more than 400,000 people have been affected across 50 Amazonian cities.

In neighboring Suriname, all ten Districts have reported flooding in most of their communities.

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