GUYANA: Gold Mining Impacts Entire Ecosystems – By Akola Thompson


Guyana has had a long tortuous history with extractive industries. From the heydays of bauxite to the steady allure of a wealthy oil nation, the pursuit of these finite resources has resulted in environmental health and citizen wellbeing constantly being put on the backburner. While there are clear strategies to decrease the harm of gold mining on people and ecosystems, very little ever gets done.

Gold mining has brought with it the destruction of entire ecosystems, as large scale clearing of forests is regularly undertaken. In the wake of mining activities one can always find lifeless craters and dangerous open pits spanning for miles across several regions. The gold mining industry paints a really grim picture of the harm both regulated and illegal industries can have on entire communities.         

It does not help that the majority of small and large mining operations still utilize mercury in their activities. Mercury is incredibly toxic and often seeps into waterways close to mining sites. This of course leads to many health complications such as diseases and if the dose is high enough, deaths. While former President, David Granger had during his term in office committed to phasing out the use of mercury by 2027; this was met with resistance by miners who felt like their livelihood was being threatened. In their 2019 Miner’s Manifesto, several groups detailed demands along with an argument against the phasing out of mercury if there was no suitable alternative.

I still today wonder whether they had seriously considered their stance to maintain mercury usage. While it is understood that this is the way the situation has unfortunately been for far too long, there are no good arguments for maintaining the use of mercury. Mercury significantly damages the environment and food chain and has created many instances where the water supply of different communities have become unsafe to consume and utilize due to the impacts of mining close to and around the waterways. Hopefully, the plan to phase out the use of mercury is one that is followed through with.

Recognizing the significant harm commercial mining and logging was doing to their environment and livelihood has seen several Indigenous communities speaking out against these practices. Requests made by Indigenous communities for politicians and relevant agencies to limit the amount of mining concessions that are issued however, have consistently fallen on deaf ears.

While Indigenous communities are usually considered crucial during elections season, when framed against the backdrop of the capital that can be gained from them year round, it is not surprising that no moves are ever made to ensure that Indigenous land claims and rights are appropriately addressed. To do so would mean the government would be significantly limiting the economic gains that are to be made from gold mining, which has consistently stood as one of the most important industries annually.

Of course, where mining and other extractive industries exist, conflict almost always follows. The Amerindian People’s Association in 2017 released a study that found that Indigenous communities in Region Seven were constantly plagued by land and resource conflicts due to mining and logging operations encroaching on their land. Several communities were frequent targets of bullying and violence.

These are not things that should be taken lightly. Land conflict-related killings tend to happen much more frequently within these areas than the general public is aware. This is partly due to the fact that many of these mining operations are usually stationed in areas that are removed from any oversight or regulatory bodies. This has created an environment where many miners, particularly those with large-scale operations, operate as though they are a law unto themselves.

While Guyana has a fairly comprehensive Mining Act, a predictable lack of implementation has resulted in an industry that is unstable and harmful.

Miners have to be made aware of their impact on the environment so as to utilize techniques that would reduce harmful environmental, human and social effects that are associated with an improperly managed operation. There needs to be more focus on rehabilitation of mined environments that centres on sustainable practices which benefit our eco-system. Gold is not an infinite resource and more care needs to be taken with the environments that we rely on for our food, shelter, health and social needs.

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  • Joan  On 07/06/2021 at 2:03 pm

    I hope that the problem raised in the article above is being dealt with by the Government when they are signing contracts with the foreign companies for gold mining. They should also require rehabilitation of the areas mined so that some livelihood can be had from that land.

  • brandli62  On 07/07/2021 at 11:06 am

    The use of mercury for gold extraction needs to be banned and a ban has to be enforced with stiff fines or jail.

  • JoE  On 07/07/2021 at 3:29 pm

    I stand to be corrected. But it seems to me that the present Government plays fast and loose with environmental protection in the area of extractive operations. It’s my impression that the previous government was more engaged with controlling the activities of the last major Chinese operation, Bai Shan Lin Company and its flagrant ignoring of local regulations. And here we are free rein for another Chinese company to walk in and throw its weight around with contempt for the host country allowing it to harvest its resources..for little or nothing. Who is the Minister in charge of this area and why is he or she so un-engaged with the issue of the desecration of the land? Where is the Min. for Indigenous Affairs with regard to supporting and strengthening the rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Guyana without whose respect for their environment, there would be nothing there today to plunder.

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