By Leonard Gildarie
It is a known fact that over 80 percent of Guyana’s lands are forested. Largely intact. Logging is not what accounts for the larger portion of our deforestation…rather, it is mining.
The ravages of what is clearly climate change is upon us. We can no longer bury our heads. We watched, in yet another year, as the spring tides became higher. Within weeks, residents were hit again. The waves that crashed into our seawalls were beautifully terrifying, with owners of homes in certain areas not spared.
Leguan and Wakenaam, and especially the West Coast of Demerara, were hard hit. So was Region 5.
I was up in Berbice recently and passed by the Mahaicony area. The backlands of areas around Fairfield and surrounding environs are telling a deeply worrying tale of how vulnerable Guyana is. Weeks later, the water is still there.
We have so far been spared the ravages of earthquakes and hurricanes.
However, we do have a major problem which has been around for centuries…we are below sea level. Rising sea levels will only exacerbate the situation as the ice caps melt.
I could not help but think of that last week after seeing images of Venezuelans squatting on a river dam area between Grove and Diamond.
Following the story in Kaieteur News last Sunday, authorities rushed health and emergency teams to the area.
On a normal day, on the river dam, the mosquitoes are intolerable.
The Venezuelans migrants, desperate for somewhere to stay, and quite a few without papers, built rickety homes, with plastic and pieces of discarded wood.
There is no running water or toilets. The absence of electricity is a major issue.
In one shack, a dozen persons lived. There are children there too. It is a sight of desperation. The daily tides wash under the homes.
It is an unacceptable situation that spells danger and poses immediate health risks.
The squatting started quietly in the last few months, with villagers knowing but authorities clueless. It was estimated that between Grove and Diamond alone about 300 persons were living in horrendous conditions.
Government has taken a decision to relocate them.
As we speak, scores of oil companies are here. They are vying for a piece of the action called Guyana. Guyana is hoping for significant benefits from oil and gas.
What is certain is that we have money coming from an area that did not exist before.
I raise all the above to highlight one significant point that we spoke about before and would want to remind the powers that be. We have money right now that we can cater for.
Yes, whatever we want to call it…the value for our forests in the light of climate change has gone up. In fact, the whole world understands this. Haiti knows this. Antigua and Barbuda knows. So does The Bahamas. They are still reeling from hurricanes.
Recently, we watched in horror as the picturesque Venice, in Europe, went under water from high tides. Those were unbelievable sights.
Do we still need more proof of climate change; that something is happening?
Earlier this year, too, we watched in anger as miles of Brazilian forests burned.
While the fires were believed to be largely man-made, the deep worry by developed countries which understood all too clearly the value of the Amazon forests, of which Guyana is part, was immediately evident.
France reminded that the Amazon rainforest is the lungs of the world.
Our 2009 deal with Norway to reduce deforestation and protect the trees was a test.
We hold a commodity that demands payment. The Amazon should be revered.
The people have to understand it is like oil. The countries around the world have to understand we need resources to keep the trees intact. This is not blackmail. It is rendering a service. There is a premium on it.
Yes, US$250M for five years will not work. We have to get the World Bank and other like-minded institutions to bring the pressure. The United Nations in New York, CARICOM, the Organisation of American States, UNASUR and other bodies all have to play a role to apply the pressure.
As a country, we have to understand this. The talks about what we have to move beyond. We have to take it to another level quickly and demand more.
We have something to offer and there must be payments. Our people deserve that.
It will help in dealing with the challenges that Guyana will have to deal with increased migration, among other things. A little food for thought.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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