Chemicals from rice fields continuing to foul Canje Creek, residents say

-villagers still falling ill, probe ongoing

Residents of Canje Creek say that chemicals used by rice farmers are continuing to contaminate their only source of water for drinking and other purposes, resulting in them becoming sick.

The affected residents who are mainly from Tacouba, Manarabisi and Black Bush told Stabroek News that they have been treated at the health centre for “belly pain,” diarrhoea, dermatitis and other medical conditions. They said that the water has changed from its regular dark colour to “white” after the farmers started to occupy the area from the end of last year. One woman said she is “not taking the chance to drink the water (from the creek) any more. I rather bear my thirst….”

The complaints have been ongoing for months. Rice cultivation has expanded in several areas in the wake of the more lucrative Venezuela market.

The woman explained that when they are travelling for long distances in the creek, they would “dip the water and give to the children to drink but now we can’t even do that. No amount of boiling would help make the water better.”

Residents lamented that the contaminated water is dangerous to their health. They said too that they are not “getting fish as before… maybe they [fish] gone up the creek to find good water.”

Contacted, the farmers told Stabroek News that “the matter is being investigated.” They asserted “we (are) not irresponsible farmers… and we have not closed (our) eyes to what is being alleged. We have taken preventative measures to avoid contamination.” They said too that the “reports carried in the press that we have done nothing is not fair.” The farmers said that they have put in a koker and they have done dry sowing, thus using less chemicals.

Stabroek News was told that the Environmental Protection Agency will visit the area soon to take samples and test the water.

Following the concerns raised by residents, the Guyana Rice Development Board, the Rice Producers Association and the Drainage & Irrigation Board held an emergency meeting with the farmers to decide how to address the situation. Several proposals have been put forward and the farmers said they would be “willing to meet with the residents to discuss and show them what we have done” and to put systems in place “to their satisfaction.”

The farmers said that government excavated a canal at the location about a year ago but it was not done properly. According to them, instead of the operator throwing the slush on the southern side, he threw it “on the existing dam and there is no trench any longer.”

Part of the proposal, they explained is to “re-dig that trench and create a dam again on the southern side so that we can drain to the ocean.”

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