Georgetown, Guyana – (June 6, 2019) President David Granger, this morning, said government is resolved to accelerate its efforts to ensure a clean, healthy and hygienic environment for everyone by protecting the integrity of our rivers, proscribing single-use plastics and by strengthening the capacity of municipal, neighbourhood and regional administrations to improve their solid waste management.
“Government’s efforts are part of its multi-faceted approach to environmental stewardship- education, enforcement of regulations, ecological consciousness by everyone, energy that is renewable and extractive industries that are sustainable and safe,” the President said.
The Head of State reminded that everyone has a responsibility to protect the earth and the people who inhabit it by safeguarding the sources which sustain life.
“Damage and degradation of any or all of these sources threaten human existence and the only place where man can live- on planet earth,” he said.
Guyana, the President said, faces environmental threats to fresh air, clean water and the bountiful earth. “Our rivers are being polluted by reckless river-mining. The proliferation of plastic waste, especially single-use plastics, has compromised our drainage systems and precipitated floods. Careless solid waste management and irresponsible human habits have led to widespread littering and threats to public health,” he said.
But notwithstanding the challenges, President Granger is confident that by protecting our environment, the sources which sustain human life and the planet are being safeguarded.
“We affirm our commitment to ensuring a safe environment for our citizens through actions to safeguard the integrity of our rivers, to restrict the use of single-use plastics and to improve solid waste management in all communities,” the Head of State told those gathered at the Baridi Benab, State House compound, to observe World Environment Day 2019.
He reminded that the protection of the environment is an obligation not an option. Article 149 J (2) of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana stated that “…The State shall protect the environment, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures designed to prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure sustainable development and the use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development. Further, the Constitution mandates, that “…Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to his or her well-being,” the President said.
As such, the Government, in compliance with the Constitution, has taken steps to protect human life by safeguarding the environment.
“It is committed to preventing pollution and ecological degradation by preventing the contamination of our waterways, phasing-out the importation of single-use plastics and improving solid waste management,” the President said, noting that Guyana is proud to be part of the Guiana Shield – ‘the lungs of the earth’.
President Granger noted too that Guyana’s waters, particularly in the hinterland regions are used for cooking, drinking, fishing, playing, sporting and washing. Rivers, he said, provide water for irrigation, mining and other economic activities, and are one of the principal means of communication and transportation between communities in different parts of our country.
The Head of State iterated that river pollution impacts adversely on water quality, health and the economic and social well-being of residents. “Our rivers must be protected from pollution caused by environmental damage and degradation and the discharge of effluent from manufacturing, mining and farming,” the President said.
He made it clear that gold mining is impacting adversely on the country’s rivers. “The dreadful ‘draga’ dredges used in gold mining are degrading our river banks and increasing the turbidity of our rivers. Effluent from gold mining has been contaminating our rivers.
Mercury used in the amalgamation process in gold-mining has found its way into our waterways – rivers, rapids and creeks – and presents a threat to aquatic systems and our biodiversity. The amalgamation process in gold mining can cause mercury to leech into the soil and waterways, affecting both humans and the ecosystems,” said President Granger, even as he emphasised that mining remains a vital sector in the country’s economy.
“… Nevertheless, we have to be very careful. Support for safe and sustainable mining is a key element of our Green State Development Strategy – our road map towards the good life for everyone,” he said.
Turning his attention to Guyana’s transition towards becoming a ‘green state’, the President said such a state will demonstrate how the country’s extractive industries can be aligned to protect the environment, preserve the biodiversity and promote energy generation from renewable resources.
“We intend to enforce our existing mining and environmental laws more rigorously so as to ensure robust environmental monitoring and to eradicate river pollution; eliminate the use of mercury from the gold mining sector eventually while introducing economically feasible alternatives to mercury; and employ greener and safer mining practices which minimize waste and reduce negative environmental impacts,” said President Granger.
The President reminded that mercury is harmful to human health and to the environment while noting that Guyana is a signatory to the Minamata Convention on Mercury which aims at protecting human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and the releases of mercury and mercury compounds.
“The phased reduction and eventual elimination of the use of mercury is part of our national mining policy and is consistent with our obligations under the Convention. If we could eliminate the use of tobacco, we could eliminate the use of mercury eventually. Guyana’s commitment to the goal of reducing mercury emissions by 55 per cent within the next five years and to eliminate mercury use by 2027 is irrevocable,” the Head of State asserted.
Additionally, President Granger said land degradation remains a threat to Guyana’s natural capital. Rising sea levels, caused by global warming, have eroded the natural sea defence structures and, along with the porousness of some of our drainage systems, have allowed for intrusion of salt water into agricultural lands.
The swelling of rivers occasioned by excessive rainfall threatens hinterland agriculture and communities, he said while noting that “Degradation of land has the potential to affect food security, sustainable livelihoods, resource availability and social stability. Mismanagement of land can impact on the environment and citizens’ quality of life adversely.”
The President reminded that forests help reduce land degradation. Trees, by binding soils, reduce the damage and destruction from run-off water. Mangrove forests help secure our river banks and shoreline from erosion.
“Deforestation, similarly disastrous, will expose the soils to the risk of degradation. Mining and logging are two of the principal contributors to deforestation. Small-scale mining, alone, accounted for about 89 per cent of deforestation over the past three years. Small-scale mining has a large-scale impact on the environment. Deforestation, by both mining and logging, has scarred our rainforests with craters. These wastelands result in further land degradation of the exposed land,” he stated.
The President emphasised that the country’s forestry and mining laws will be strengthened to make re-forestation and land reclamations conditional for the approval of mining and logging concessions.
Moreover, the Head of State assured that Government is developing policies aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating plastic pollution. “Government ministries have already been instructed to begin to phase out the consumption of single-use plastics, including plastic bags, containers, cups, cutlery, straws and water bottles in the short-term.”
“I iterate the call, made last year, for Guyanese, everywhere, to help beat plastic pollution by curtailing their use of single-use plastics, disposing of plastics responsibly and switching to environmentally friendly alternatives,” President Granger said, while noting that the indiscriminate dumping of garbage and litter is unhealthy and unhygienic and has costly consequences for all.
The President also noted that the Green State Development Strategy (GSDS) proposes policies to encourage the safe disposal of solid waste while also promoting policies aimed at minimizing solid-waste generation, recycling waste and improving collection and disposal.
“Government is resolved to boost the capability of our local and regional authorities to solve the problems associated with solid waste management. This will be supplemented by a vigorous public education campaign to promote responsible disposal of litter,” he asserted.
World Environment Day, the Head of State said, reminds the citizens of their duty to protect and preserve planet earth.
Also present at the event were Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Mr. Joseph Harmon; Director, Department of Environment, Ms. Ndibi Schwiers; United Nations Resident Co-ordinator, Ms. Mikiko Tanaka and PAHO/WHO Country Representative, Dr. William Adu-Krow.