By Kiana Wilburg
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has highlighted in one of its latest reports that Guyana’s Indigenous villages continue to face serious underdevelopment challenges due to deficient infrastructure, limited human capital, and lack of access to capital for investment.
This report which was prepared by Elton Bollers, Dillon Clarke, Teniesha Johnny, and Mark Wenner was published by the financial institution last month.
The report presents the results of a survey administered to 11 Indigenous Village Leadership Councils and 867 households.
The objectives of the survey were to better understand the situation of indigenous peoples in Guyana and to support the work of the Bank and the government of Guyana in designing programmes, policies, and interventions leading to improvements in the lives of all of Guyana’s citizens, with emphasis on programmes targeting indigenous peoples and hinterland regions.
While the report highlights the findings of a 2014 survey, which would have been under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), it also makes mention of actions that were taken by the David Granger administration.
The IDB said that the lack of land tenure security is a central concern for Amerindian peoples. It said that the lands that have been titled and demarcated are generally restricted to residential lands. Only Amerindian hunting and fishing grounds, vital for secure livelihoods and food security, largely remain without legal title.
The Bank noted that there are 27 villages with unresolved applications for extension to their lands. It said that the original lands titled and demarcated might have only represented a portion of the total lands claimed or their population has grown since the titles were granted, necessitating an extension or addition to their titled lands.
It said that there are also 20 other settlements that do not meet the criteria under the Act for titling, that is, the villages have not been in existence for at least 25 years or their population is less than 150 people.
Considering this, the Bank said that there is a need to establish effective, fair, and transparent mechanisms for clarifying and securing Amerindian land and territorial rights in a timely and efficient manner. Although the Amerindian Act provides for villages to apply to the Minister of Amerindian Affairs for a grant of communal land title over their traditionally held lands, the Bank stressed that there are no clear, transparent, and systematic criteria for deciding whether title should be granted or, more importantly, how the precise boundaries of any grant of land should be determined.
The Bank said that some communities have repudiated the process under the Act.
“For example, six villages in the Upper Mazaruni Region (Region Seven) are pursuing a court claim for recognition of Amerindian title.
“Upcoming plans to move into the implementation phase of the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) will increase the urgency of resolving outstanding land claims and boundary disputes because communities may only opt into the LCDS if their lands have been formally titled,” the Bank noted.
In addition, the financial institution said that there remains uncertainty over the ownership of carbon revenues generated from projects on claimed or disputed lands and whether carbon contained in these areas would even be eligible for REDD+ payments under donor agreements, such as, for example, the Norway-Guyana agreement regarding the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF).
In its Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) for the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the Bank noted that the government of Guyana has acknowledged the critical importance of facilitating mechanisms for the fair and timely resolution of outstanding Amerindian land claims as part of the national REDD+ Strategy.
Further to this, the Bank highlighted that between 2013 and 2016, an Amerindian Titling programme valued at US$10.7 million was supposed to cover 68 villages. By project end, the Bank noted that titles had been granted in only a quarter of the target villages.
The IDB said that the two main reasons for delays were encumbrances due to overlapping land use grants and concessions made by state entities, namely the Guyana Forest Commission and Guyana Geological and Mining Commission, and the time-consuming nature of adhering to the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) principle.
In March 2017, the IDB noted that the Granger administration established a Commission of Inquiry on Land under the Commission of Inquiry Act to examine and make recommendations to resolve all issues and uncertainties surrounding the claims of Amerindian land titling, the individual, joint, or communal ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans, and any matters relating to land titling in Guyana with a report deadline of November 1, 2017.
The IDB said that a preliminary report was submitted in October 2017 along with a request for more time. It said that no final report had been submitted as of this writing which concluded last month.
Without security of land tenure, the IDB said that economic development and land improvement investments are undermined.
HEALTH AND WELLBEING
The IDB found that communicable diseases such as malaria, dengue, influenza, pneumonia, and tuberculosis, were more frequent than non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes and cancer. Further to this, the Bank said that the nature of illnesses and other health issues reported vary by village. In Baramita, for example, the Bank noted that dengue is the most commonly reported illness, while in Waramuri, several different unclassified cases were reported.
In Santa Aratak Mission and Waramadong, diarrhea was most frequently reported. In St. Cuthbert’s Mission, several different unclassified cases were most frequently reported. In Moraikobai, cold/flu was most frequent, in Jawalla, malaria was most frequently reported, and in Muritaro, tuberculosis was the most frequently reported illness.
With the aforementioned in mind, the Bank said that each village has different needs with respect to health and common diseases.
It said however, “The number of full-time and part-time medical workers available in each village is an important factor in the health and wellbeing of the residents. The study found that each village had at least one health worker.
“Five of the villages had full-time medics, four had full-time midwives, and one had a full-time nurse while another had a full-time dentist. None of the Amerindian Villages had a full-time doctor.”
The IDB said that the lack of adequate numbers of full-time medical personnel is an important issue that needs to be addressed to improve the health and wellbeing of the residents of these villages.
With respect to part-time medical personnel, it was found that seven of the 11 villages were discovered to have at least one part-time doctor. Five had part-time dentists, three had part-time medics, three had part-time nurses, and none had part-time midwives or health workers. Baramita, Waramuri, St. Ignatius, and Muritaro had no part-time medical personnel.
The Inter-American Development Bank said that the most common level of educational attainment was primary school. The second most common was secondary school. When asked a series of questions about how education is perceived, most respondents told the IDB that there were no problems in receiving quality primary schooling, but a large percentage reported that obtaining a quality secondary, tertiary and vocational education was difficult.
More tellingly, a clear majority believed that the formal education system is failing to impart useful and practical skills that would help their children succeed beyond basic literacy.
ACCESS TO FINANCIAL SERVICES
The IDB said that most respondents do not seem to have access to formal financial services. A majority reported not having a bank account (deposit, checking), no access to credit, and claimed that obtaining access to capital to finance the start of a business was difficult.
(Those who did have a bank account tended to be government workers (teachers and healthcare workers).
The IDB said that none of the villages surveyed has access to the nearest provincial town or capital by a paved all-weather road.
The Bank said that some of the villages depend on fluvial transport. Furthermore, the Bank noted that poor transportation increases the time needed and the cost of moving goods and people, which reduces the economic competitiveness of the villages.
Most of the respondents cited poor transportation links as a major problem.
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