by Ruslin Richards
Guyana lies in the heart of the Guiana shield; with approximately 85% of the country still covered with forest. It has one of the highest levels of biodiversity of any country, with over 8,000 species of flora and over 2,000 species of fauna. It is known as one of the world’s last four intact rain-forest in the world (World Wildlife Fund 2012).
Guyana is also well known for its rich source of natural minerals including gold, diamond and bauxite. In a quest for sustainable development the government has sought to attract oversee investors in the mining sector, with specific interest in gold mining. Gold mining has been on the rise contributing significantly (compared to other minerals) to Guyana’s export market (Guyana Geology & Mines 2010).
The gold rush over the past years has not been a glittering one for the environment, with many new miners unaware of proper mining practices and others continuing to operate as they have done in the past.
The majorities of mining operations are done at a small scale (approximately14, 333 claims were made in 2010) (Guyana Geology & Mines 2010), which is considered to be the most destructive form of mining, it incorporates the use of mercury causing pollution to the waters, poisoning fish and endangering the lives of indigenous people, who inhabit these mining areas and rely on the water for domestic and transport purposes (Dillard 2012).
There has also been an increase in forest damage. Each year the deforestation rate continues to rise, causing significant erosion in the landscapes of mining areas, leading to changes in soil structure, water quality; and soil nutrient level, which affect natural forest regeneration. In 2002, 5,335.1 hectares of forest was lost due to mining activities and this increased to 14, 781.9 hectares in 2008, an increase of 0.04% over a short six-year period (Stabroek News 2011).
According to market analysis, current indications show that the very high price of gold on the world market will continue to fuel mining activities (Stabroek news 2011), which will have perpetual impacts on deforestation and water quality. Thus the issue will only get bigger if government fails to address it with urgency.
Immediate action is needed to minimize deforestation and degradation caused by mining activities. A reform of policy, incorporating a holistic approach at all instructional scales will be a crucial step in an effort to achieve sustainable development.
Dillard, k., 2012. Artisanal gold mining threatens riverine communities in Guyana. New Security Beat-the blog of the environmental change and security programme. <http://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2012/08/artisanal-gold-mining-threatens-riverine-communities-in-guyana/#.UzzIfseA1sU >
Stabroek News, 2011. Increase environmental damage caused by mining boom. <http://www.stabroeknews.com/2011/archives/06/26/increased-environmental-damage-caused-by-mining-boom/>
World Wildlife Fund, 2012. Living Guianas Report: State of the Guianas, Drivers and Pressures towards Green Economies. <http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/amazon/publications/?207255/Living-Guianas-Report-2012>