May 11, 2021 Letters
There are three significant events which occurred recently, Mother’s Day; the signing of the Escazu Agreement by the President of Guyana; and a statement by the PPP on May Day. These three events speak to the importance of mothers, the environment and a commitment to the welfare of the working people of Guyana.
We often hear our planet referred to as Mother Earth, reflecting a mother’s unwavering, unconditional love, care, commitment, protection, defence and advocacy for an environment which will allow her children to grow and thrive. Readers, use your imagination to reflect on our planet, Earth, the qualities of mothers, think of our country, Guyana as one of the many children of our Mother Earth, let us now think of global and local human activity and in particular exploitative, destructive activities, harmful not only to the environment but to the health and safety of Guyanese women, men, youth, children born and unborn – what legacy and environment do we want to leave them. According to unassailable scientific research, it is human activity and in particular exploitative and extractive activities, especially fossil fuel extraction and use which, has been assessed as most harmful not only to the environment but to the survival of our planet, if the Earth dies we all die. Mother Earth must be sorely alarmed, disappointed in Guyana as her rivers, mountains, lands, sea and air are becoming increasingly polluted, we have high levels of mercury poisoning in many indigenous and hinterland communities, a whole mountain top has been removed from a mountain range, deep pits have been dug for extractive mining of all types, mercury use in Guyana is unregulated and widespread, river courses have been altered, unregulated, continuous flaring by Exxon discharges huge amount of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases into the air equivalent to clear cutting of thousands of hectares of forests, while gallons of toxic waste water are being discharged into Guyana sea zone from one floating, FPSO, platform. What will be the impact of eight or more similar platforms operating in Guyana’s small exclusive economic zone? As Guyana’s oil and gas reserves are being exploited at an unprecedented level, little emphasis is being placed on the dangerous and negative environmental effects these are and will have on our environment, not only locally but globally. Guyana lacks the expertise to regulate this new extractive industry and relies on others to do this. Four areas for the storage of chemicals and hazardous waste and shore base activities within or bordering communities in Guyana were given the green light by the EPA and other State Agencies without the need for EIA s. I have heard that in 2019 Guyana’s GDP growth was pegged at 40; however this sharp increase did not materialise for the average Guyanese in any way. Industrialisation and expansion of business must not come at the cost of unrepairable environmental damage and the health and well-being of Guyanese.
Now onto the Escazu Agreement, congratulations to the President of Guyana, Dr. Irfaan Ali, for signing this landmark agreement on the environment. The Escazu Agreement which came into effect on April 2021 guarantees “full and effective implementation of the rights of access to environmental information, public participation and justice” and protects the rights of citizens to live in a healthy environment. In other words, Escazu guarantees access to environmental information, consultation in environmental decision making processes, right to take legal action in cases of environmental damage, promotes and defends the rights of environmental defenders, indigenous peoples and communities. Governments will now be accountable for threatening or harming in any way environmental defenders. Mother Earth must be well pleased by this agreement and must be awaiting impatiently the full implementation of the Escazu Agreement in Guyana, the Caribbean and Latin America. So on behalf of Mother Earth, everyone please educate yourself on Escazu and use it; it protects all of us from being ignored, sidelined, and intimidated on environmental issues and the right to live in a healthy environment. Escazu is a binding agreement so in the interest of the right of access to information, the Guyana Government should release all agreements on extractive industries, disseminate informed and best practice occupational and safety measures required for storage of hazardous waste from oil platforms and its safe disposal, discharge of waste water from FPSO platforms, flaring of noxious gases into the environment. We have already seen that mysterious huge ship which slammed into the Craig river bank, what happens if there is a spill and discharge of hazardous waste being transported from off shore platforms to onshore facilities which are all bordering the Demerara River.
On May Day, the PPP/C, the party which won Guyana’s elections and whose members form the bulk of ministerial positions and decisions said that workers are Guyana’s most valuable asset and committed the PPP/C Government to working assiduously to ensure workers are a priority and that their lives and conditions continue to improve. If this is so, what consideration is being given to the health and safety of the environment and the Guyanese working people from extractive industries? There seems to be a type of conflict emerging from the push of big business and Guyanese communities defending their right to a safe and healthy environment. One of Guyana’s most precious resources, our forest, is still intact because our Indigenous sisters and brothers for centuries have shown us how to live in harmony without destroying the environment.
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