PORT OF SPAIN – Food shortages, higher food prices and unusual health threats may be looming following recent floods – but on the plus side various countries have reached out to Trinidad and Tobago offering assistance.
Guyana, for instance, is offering help with agricultural supplies. Confirmation came from agriculture minister Clarence Rambharat and the office of the prime minister yesterday.
This following recent flood devastation along the east-west corridor, central and southeast Trinidad, affecting thousands. Rain continued yesterday bringing more anxiety.
The unprecedented levels of water in some areas and declaration of a disaster has been noted in places beyond T&T.
The prime minister’s office yesterday stated that prime minister Keith Rowley has been contacted by Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness, Barbadian prime minister Mia Mottley, Dominican prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit, Grenada prime minister Keith Mitchell and Venezuela president Nicolás Maduro.
The OPM said, “The regional leaders have expressed their concern for the people of T&T as we grapple with the effects of the floods due to this unusually protracted period of inclement weather. They’ve all indicated they are on standby to assist the people of T&T in the event that requests for assistance are forthcoming.
“The prime minister thanked all the leaders for their concern and best wishes and indicated that difficult as it is, we are coping for the moment through government agency responses and private outpourings from persons across the nation.”
While Guyana wasn’t mentioned by the OPM’s statement, in yesterday’s senate debate of the 2019 budget, agriculture minister Rambharat said his colleagues had informed him the Guyanese government wanted to get in touch with him to ascertain what T&T needs in agriculture, what agricultural supplies would be short and how assistance could be co-ordinated.
His colleague told him Guyanese minister Joe Harmon had been in touch with the prime minister.
Rambharat said this had been one of the best years for farmers who’d had sufficient rain – up to last Friday. But he said, “When rainfall gets into farmland there are many consequences.”
Rambharat said farmers will face tremendous problems, not only immediate loss of crops but also spread of disease and pests and recovery time. He said the devastation is coming at one of the most productive times for farmers: Divali and Christmas.
While people have been asking him about food prices, Rambharat said the bigger issue is T&T’s ability to provide food supplies towards year-end.
“That is why government believes the more important decision to make is related to a conversation with Guyana,” he added.
Rambharat said resources were put in place from yesterday for farmers to get claim assistance forms to try and recoup for lost crops. Additional staff are at the ministry’s Chaguanas head office to receive claims.
Prior to the senate sitting, minister in the agriculture ministry, PNM senator Avinash Singh, told T&T Guardian that consumers can expect shortages in food supplies as a result of lost crops.
“When there’s a shortage, prices tend to go up. As with any disaster, food prices will be affected. As to the extent, I can’t say as all the hilly terrain hasn’t been damaged as we speak,” Singh said.
“The health ministry will also be out to inspect food items, since we’re concerned people will try to use damaged produce. Some things don’t show damage right away, but they do in a couple days.”
In the senate, Rambharat warned that health dangers arising from flood waters washing away topsoil includes threat of the spread of the giant African snail. Handling this with bare hands can lead to meningitis, he noted.
“That to me is one of the most serious consequences,” he said.
Rambharat said the snail was once only found in Diego Martin, but through use of topsoil, it spread to Orange Grove, Santa Cruz, Central, Couva and Tarouba. He said Orange Grove flooding could hold significant potential for the spread of the snail.
Singh said Coosal’s yesterday started to sheet parts of the Uriah Butler Highway which were damaged.
Local government minister Kazim Hosein said water trucking, cesspit cleaning and backhoe-clearing was also in force yesterday. Unaffected corporations were mandated to help others affected in east, central and south-east and CEPEP and URP units were assisting, he said.