New EPA chief aims to clean up rivers

Stabroek News Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

Deal­ing with the pol­lu­tion and degra­da­tion of hin­ter­land rivers and wa­ter­ways caused mainly by min­ing is a top pri­or­ity for newly-ap­pointed En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) head Dr Vin­cent Adams.

“Our mis­sion is to make sure we have the clean­est wa­ter and air—min­i­mum con­tam­i­na­tion—as ever. The hin­ter­land’s river pol­lu­tion needs ur­gent ad­dress­ing and we will put all of our re­sources at work,” Adams told Sun­day Stabroek in an in­ter­view last week.

Not­ing that he has only been on the job for a few days, hav­ing taken up his ap­point­ment last Mon­day, he said he had not yet had the op­por­tu­nity to meet with staff, or to tell them of his plans for the agency.

But plung­ing im­me­di­ately into a work­shop on im­prov­ing in­dus­trial safety and en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion, which was or­gan­ised by the Mex­i­can Em­bassy and ran from Mon­day to Wed­nes­day of last week, Adams said he was able to hear first-hand, of some of the prob­lems faced. In ad­di­tion, from his own read­ings and anal­y­sis of re­search work done in Guyana on min­ing and its ef­fects on hin­ter­land com­mu­ni­ties, he be­lieves that wa­ter pol­lu­tion, es­pe­cially in the hin­ter­land, needs ur­gent at­ten­tion by his agency.

“For­tu­nately for me, my first few days were spent at a Mex­i­can Em­bassy train­ing where I was able to meet some of my staff, in­ter­act, and learn of some the chal­lenges of the agency and com­plaints re­ceived. I want to know now, as I work through plan­ning, what are the ma­jor is­sues here. I have asked man­agers to pro­vide me with all of the back­log work. They also have to state why there is a back­log and fig­ure out a way to get rid of that and fig­ure out how to prioritise. I am seek­ing feed­back from the re­spon­si­ble man­ager on river pol­lu­tion, con­tam­i­na­tion and degra­da­tion. If it is as bad as I think, I can prom­ise I’ll get on it im­me­di­ately,” he said.

“I must add that from what I gather so far, I think I un­der­stand what some of the pri­or­i­ties are, and con­tam­i­na­tion of wa­ters in re­mote ar­eas is one such pri­or­ity. You may not un­der­stand my pas­sion but wa­ter is very close to me be­cause I am also a hy­drol­o­gist. Many don’t know but early in my ca­reer, I worked for the Guyana Wa­ter Author­ity as a hy­dro­log­i­cal en­gi­neer. Clean wa­ter is near and dear to my heart and I will make this a pri­or­ity. I ex­pect it to come up in the list of is­sues but this is a pri­or­ity for me,” he em­pha­sised.

For decades, res­i­dents of hin­ter­land com­mu­ni­ties, from Arau in Re­gion Seven, Kon­awaruk in Re­gion Eight and those in the Re­gion One ar­eas – where much gold min­ing is done - have lamented the con­tam­i­na­tion and degra­da­tion of their main sources of wa­ter; nearby rivers and creeks.

Last year, the Guyana Hu­man Rights As­so­ci­a­tion (GHRA), in sound­ing an alarm about the dev­as­ta­tion oc­cur­ring in Guyana’s rivers, had de­scribed the Pu­runi River as “a ru­inous mess of tail­ings and dev­as­ta­tion” for miles and said it was un­nav­i­ga­ble for large stretches.

“Guyanese gold-min­ing ef­flu­ent in the Cuyuni, added to that com­ing from Venezuela, spews poi­soned yel­low ef­flu­ent into the Esse­quibo at Bar­tica in such vol­ume as to dis­colour large stretches of this ‘mighty’ river’s West­ern shores. The Po­taro, home of Kai­eteur Falls has been so plun­dered for decades by min­ing that its course now has to be re-con­fig­ured on the na­tion’s maps. Al­most two decades ago, the then head of the Guyana De­fence Force is­sued a wake-up call to the na­tion, declar­ing the Kon­awaruk River to be “dead”. The na­tion slept on and the rivers con­tinue to die,” the hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tion had said, re­port­ing on a visit to Re­gion Seven.

“While many so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges were raised dur­ing this visit, dis­cus­sions were dom­i­nated by the threats to the rivers. Per­haps most star­tling of all, large stretches of the Up­per Mazaruni it­self be­tween Jawalla and Im­baimadai, are in dan­ger of be­com­ing un-nav­i­ga­ble in the cur­rent dry sea­son even by ca­noe, much less out­board en­gines if the cur­rent reck­less and il­le­gal dump­ing of tail­ings along its banks con­tin­ues un­abated. Min­ing on this stretch of the Mazaruni River di­rectly, and on the banks of rivers in­land to a dis­tance of thirty me­tres, although il­le­gal, con­tin­ues to flour­ish,” the GHRA added.

The hu­man rights body be­lieves that the threat of river pol­lu­tion to Guyana’s fledg­ling eco-tourism in­dus­try could be ter­mi­nal and pointed out that swim­ming on the west­ern side of the Esse­quibo, where most eco-lodges are lo­cated, is in jeop­ardy along with sports, fish­ing, yacht har­bours and even bird-watch­ing.

Over the years, the Stabroek News has re­ported on the plight of vil­lagers from hin­ter­land com­mu­ni­ties and suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have promised re­dress but to no avail. Mer­cury con­tam­i­na­tion of rivers and other wa­ter­ways is also a grow­ing con­cern.

Only re­cently, vil­lagers from Yak­ishuru in Re­gion One, high­lighted to Stabroek News, their daily strug­gle where a prom­i­nent miner di­verted a sec­tion of the main Ianna River to his op­er­a­tions. “One time ago you could go, wash, bathe and get wa­ter to cook from the river but now it can­not even be used to wash. This part of the Barama River is blocked by waste mud from min­ers’ pits. We have com­plained to the GGMC (Guyana Ge­ol­ogy and Mines Com­mis­sion) so many times and they are not do­ing any­thing about it. The thing is there is a di­ver­sion of the Ianna River which the GGMC can clearly see be­cause they have to go through there to mon­i­tor dredges there,” Brian Smith told this news­pa­per.

“We sent pic­tures, we sent videos, and we com­plained, we talked and cried but noth­ing is be­ing done. You can­not buy wa­ter in this place all the time. Things are very ex­pen­sive. From the time stocks come, it gone, es­pe­cially (in the) dry sea­son. The min­ers don’t care be­cause they and some of the GGMC peo­ple are friends, and you may tell Ge­orge­town one com­plaint but they can’t do any­thing, they have to de­pend on what the peo­ple here tell them and them not telling them what we are fac­ing,” Smith said.

‘Strin­gent en­force­ment’

Adams was told of the nu­mer­ous com­plaints re­ceived, and he said he was not shocked at the neg­a­tive changes in the hin­ter­land. He be­lieves that bring­ing re­lief and even al­le­vi­at­ing the prob­lem, re­quires more per­son­nel out in the fields to as­sist with strin­gent en­force­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal laws.

“There has to be strin­gent en­force­ment and one of the things I told the staff [is] that my style is to make sure peo­ple are more out in the fields. There is work here at the head of­fice of course, but peo­ple need to be out in the fields; analysing, ed­u­cat­ing and en­forc­ing. I am promis­ing that we are go­ing to have more peo­ple, more fre­quently out where op­er­a­tions are be­ing con­ducted,” Adams said.

But he was also quick to note the dif­fi­culty faced in go­ing into re­mote ar­eas. “You can ap­pre­ci­ate that there are in­deed some chal­lenges with lo­gis­tics be­cause Guyana’s geo­graph­i­cal make up is very unique. Get­ting to those places and get­ting the needed per­son­nel re­quired for the work, the agency will need to in­vest in the re­quired re­sources, but we have to start some­where. We have to be­gin work, and soon, so that [when] we put in for a cer­tain bud­get, we have a record of what we are do­ing and the suc­cesses of those ex­er­cises as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for what we need. It is not go­ing to be a walk in the park but we have to start and start now,” he de­clared.

Re­flect­ing on his younger days in his home­land, Adams told of a pris­tine and un­touched hin­ter­land en­vi­ron­ment where the in­dige­nous peo­ple of this coun­try once thrived. “At one time, I know peo­ple could drink from the rivers with­out worry. To­day, and as the per­son you quoted from, right­fully said, you can­not wash your clothes with the wa­ter moreso drink it; that is the re­al­ity. The aquatic life was out of this world and peo­ple used to sell Moro­cut, one of the sweet­est fishes I be­lieve, to get an in­come. Most of that is ru­ined. So it is go­ing to take some re­sources, trans­porta­tion, ve­hi­cles, boats, etcetera but it is a pri­or­ity that peo­ple are out there mon­i­tor­ing and what­ever prob­lem is taken care of, what is rea­son­ably pos­si­ble,” he said.

“While we put all these plans to­gether and for­mu­late a model plan for the agency, which will ob­vi­ously cater for the emerg­ing oil and gas sec­tor, we have to si­mul­ta­ne­ously deal with what I feel is ur­gently needed. We can’t have peo­ple out there suf­fer­ing… be­cause of a few cal­lous min­ers who only seek prof­its. We will make our pri­or­i­ties known, look­ing not only at the oil pro­duc­ers but the en­tire coun­try and their needs. Plans will be made to have that dealt with in an ex­pe­di­tious

Turn to page 22

Dr Vin­cent Adams (DPI Photo)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Guyana

© PressReader. All rights reserved.