Aug 31, 2012 Editorial Comments Off on Sharing the Pie: Sustainably
As the major economies of the west continue to grind along on their bearings, not surprisingly investors and speculators agonise about the stability of their countries. Also not surprisingly, the latter have taken refuge in gold – the tradition haven in times of uncertainty. There is even talk in the present US presidential campaign of that country reverting to the gold standard which President Nixon effectively scuttled in 1970 when he sundered its linkage with the US greenback.
So gold has continued its inexorable upwards climb; increasing in value by more than five and a half times over the past decade. In Guyana this surge in the price of gold has witnessed a commensurate gold rush in our interior. Brazilian garimpeiros, North American mining corporations, local porknockers and the old-line gold miners – and their attendant retinues, legal and illegal – all descended into the gold fields to find their fortunes.
Simultaneously, we saw FDI’s plucking up the old bauxite mines with new areas also identified for exploitation. Manganese in the North West District and uranium in the Pakaraimas also received attention. A flurry of oil rigs are drilling industriously off shore and inland for the petroleum that geographical surveys assure us exist in gargantuan quantities. It was inevitable that this increased exploitation of our mineral resources would generate some tensions, some of which have hit the press in recent months.
Earlier this month, the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) took out full-page ads in the newspapers and lodged a formal complaint to the UNDP against the project underway that seeks to demarcate Amerindian lands. The UNDP is facilitating the flow of the Norway pact moneys identified by the Government of Guyana for this exercise. The GGDMA claimed that the demarcation would include an extension of the 14% of Guyana already titled to Amerindians, who are merely 10% of the Guyanese population, up to 35%. The GGDMA’s concern stemmed from their conclusion that mining opportunities would be diminished if the extensions were to be entrenched.
There have also been complaints by the mining bodies and mining interests about the bidding process for the allocation of mining rights in gold. While there has not been at this time conflicts in other mining areas, save for some leaders in Linden complaining about the practices of Bosai, it would be prudent to anticipate such eruptions as activities move from the exploratory to the exploitation stage. But, in addition to the competition between economic interests the result of all this heightened activity has also precipitated concerns about the environmental impact on the biosphere.
With the closure of the Omai operations, which used cyanide in their gold extraction, the environmental concerns have shifted to the widespread use of mercury which then adsorbs and absorbs (“sorbtion”) into the soils and water. There has also been the huge increase in sediment content of river waters. The last few years have seen commensurate dramatic developments in the policies related to the management of industrial and mining development as well as the environment in Guyana. These have been set out within the overarching Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).
In many ways we are still to experience the full impact of these changes in the policies in that they have not been under implementation for long enough for us to judge their synergies and impacts on the environment and especially the socio-economic status of the poorer sections of our society.
Nevertheless, some of what we have seen may not augur well for the future of either the nation’s environmental health and ecological security or for the livelihoods and well being of Amerindians. 2012 promises to be an interesting year as the various players jostle for access and control over natural resources (especially land, minerals and water) as the implementation of the new policies commence, especially the demarcation of Amerindian lands.
While the administration has created a new Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment to deal with the above-mentioned conflicts, maybe we need to amend our LCDS road map.
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