Kako River’s discolouration fuels contamination fears among villagers

Pollution, believed to be the result of mining activities in tributaries of the Kako River, last month discoloured the water, leaving villagers worried that their only source of water could be contaminated.

“We suspect mining,” Chief of the Region Seven community Mario Hastings told Stabroek News. Kako villagers have been battling to keep miners from proceeding up the pristine waterway.

Hastings said that water levels in the river are not high and the discoloration seen was what is observed in the mining area when the river banks or areas close to the river banks are mined and the tailings discharged into the river channel.

During high waters, he explained, the dark waters get discoloured but with a lighter colour and not as turbid as tailings discharges from mining.

“We don’t know who are they and we report the matter so that the (authorities) could go and investigate,” Hastings said. He explained that the tributaries of the Kako River from which the discoloured water was being discharged were the Paikua and Arabaru creeks. He said that residents of the Akawaio Amerin-dian community observed the discolouration of the water of the Kako River on March 21 but when he left the community on Monday, it appeared to be clearing up.

Last year, in a plea for the safeguarding of their only water source, Kako villagers had called for the immediate suspension of mining on the Kako River as well as a banning of future operations upstream from the village during a tense meeting with a government team. Prior to that, Hastings had said that that the village is strongly opposed to any mining upstream of the community.

“We believe that the river would be polluted and if we allow this individual, then others will follow,” he had said, referring to a miner who villagers had blocked from proceeding up the river.

The miner went to court but the injunction against Hastings as leader of the community was discharged last month. “We know from experience that Upper [Mazaruni] is a mining area and we would have a lot of impact to our culture, way of life, health,” the village leader had said.

Hastings had said that because of mining activities, the incidence of malaria, dengue and typhoid has increased in the area. He said that they are also experiencing cases of fish dying mysteriously in the river and despite an investigation, the results have not been reported to the village and they are not satisfied. Further, he had pointed out that the Kako River is not as deep as the Mazaruni given that it has many rapids and he said that the high-powered boats of the miners, and the tailings from the dredges would disrupt navigation.

He told Stabroek News yesterday that villagers reported seeing aircraft, including helicopters, far upstream but because of the distance did not investigate further. He said that the village was prepared to send a team to investigate but are fearful that it might be illegal miners so this plan was shelved. Villagers are fearful because their fears of pollution of the river are becoming reality, the village leader said.

Hastings reported the matter to the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs on Wednesday and they said that the matter would be investigated, he said. Prior to this, he had also sent messages to agencies, such as the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), regarding the pollution.

Ministry officials told him that they would get in touch with the relevant authorities and see if they can mobilise a team to make an onsite visit, Hasting recounted. He said that no timeline for this was given.

“I did tell them it’s urgent and they need to go up there,” he stressed. He pointed out that the GGMC has granted concessions covering “almost the entire area” but they told him that they are not aware of anyone working in the area at the moment.

 

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