A Natural Resources Audit should be conducted despite the expense

Dear Editor,

The recently clarified statement by His Excellency the President Mr Bharrat Jagdeo on the offer of deploying Guyana’s approximately eighty percent standing forests in the fight against global warming, has indeed cleared the air of any ambiguity on this issue. However, I do believe that much more can and has to be done in order that our nation benefits from our standing forests in a multiplicity of ways.

It is necessary, that we raise the issue of a Natural Resources Audit, which will inform this nation as to what we have and where it is.

These resources ranging from forest products, minerals, fresh water, potential hydropower sites as well as medicinal plants for the pharmaceutical industry must be explored and studied in order that informed decisions can be made, regarding how our forests are to be deployed. If our forest resources for example are left untouched and the nation benefits tangibly from the industrialized countries in some arrangement this is a good thing. However, we must be in the position to say which forests are to be left standing, due to diligent evaluation of the flora and fauna, sub-surface minerals and water resources.

It is our responsibility that we maximise the use of these precious resources not only for this generation, but also for many more to come. Some investment must be made in this direction, since this knowledge can lead us to the wealth which we ought to be seeking.

A very senior politician once told me that such an Audit will be expensive and would lead to discouraging investors, since the cost of the Audit will be transferred to the prospective investor in respective areas. I will not comment on that statement further than to say, cent wise and billions of dollars foolish.

To illustrate the necessity of a Natural Resource Audit, I will present this hypothetical scenario. We need more power generating capacity to support our growing economy. Our first choice is a hydropower facility somewhere in a heavily forested area somewhere in Region 8. We go ahead, build this hydro power plant, and flood an area, which will provide the water required to feed the turbines. Three years after commencement, we discover that the flooded area contains vast quantities of oil and gas. Indeed, we have lost time, spent large capital sums in the construction of the hydro power plant and now have to decide what to do. An audit would have helped us avoid such a situation.

In a series of lectures broadcast by the Voice of America under the theme ‘Modernization: The Dynamics of Growth’ Professor Eugene Stanley explored the role of the State in Economic Development and stated the following:

‘The government must take responsibility for analyzing the country’s economic position and its development potentials, determining feasible and mutually consistent development goals, and devising ways to move the economy towards those goals as rapidly and smoothly as possible. This requires (1) Analysis of resources, (2) setting of short-range and long-range targets for economic advance, sector by sector and so far as feasible industry by industry, and (3) spelling out for the information of all concerned what the attainment of the proposed targets will mean in increased production and in increased requirements for materials and equipment trained man power, capital and foreign exchange.’

He goes on to state ‘This process if it is realistic and followed up by positive measures of implementation, creates well-founded expectations that enable all economic agencies, governmental and private, to base their own plans and decisions on a common general plan and thus work together for economic expansion’.

Many here recognized this and after meaningful consultation,the National Development Strategy was born. Indeed the government has implemented some of the items therein, but has done so in a manner that excluded other important stakeholders. In doing so, the speed at which we could develop is limited, due to so many not feeling a part of the strategy and thus they have taken on the position of bystanders and critics. Many took part in the formulation of the plan but feel now excluded from its execution and evaluation.

Increasingly governments around the world have started to recognize that natural resources are much more than the usual mineral (gold, diamond, iron ore, bauxite etc) and hydrocarbon deposits (coal, oil and gas). Often we tend to forget that, due to standing forests, and the knowledge connected to specific species of plants and animals, used by indigenous and other peoples for medicinal purposes, this must be seen as a very special natural resource, which must be protected and so marketed. The holders of such information as a group and as individuals must benefit as well as the entire nation.

Governments must protect this local knowledge from being cheaply exported from our country by ‘research agencies’ for minuscule amounts (gifts, grants, and clock fixings) only to be sold to the pharmaceutical industries for large amounts. Fair trade indeed has its limitations.

If we recognize that the world has moved to the point where knowledge and technology are the driving forces of rapid development, then we must consciously seek to identify areas of local intellectual property and protect it. We have been guilty of snubbing local intelligence in a number of ways and thus have played into the hands of those who continue to ‘help’ us with gifts, grants and clock fixings.

Governments often overlook fresh water resources especially where an apparent abundance of water is present. With the ever-increasing negative effects of changing weather patterns, freshwater resources have to be monitored and efficiently used in order to ensure adequate supplies for future generations. Often new industries along with intensified agricultural activity put more pressure on fresh water supplies in two ways; namely: water is needed in the industries and agriculture for production processes and from these two activities effluents are produced, which contaminate fresh water. The cycle if not managed efficiently will spiral out of control, thus creating serious consequences for our very existence. Therefore, this resource must be protected and managed in a manner, that not only assures our continued development, but also secures future endeavours.

Many have predicted that future world wars will be fought, not over minerals and oil, but over the control of freshwater supplies. Many ongoing conflicts in our time are a result of limited freshwater. Therefore, this resource must be re-evaluated as a long-term asset of immense value.

Data on Guyana from 1992 as stated by World Resources Institute, under withdrawals by sector of the renewable water resources has agriculture at 98%, industry 1% and domestic at 1% using a total of 1.5 cubic kilometers.

It would be of interest to know what the figures are now in 2007 in light of the development of various sectors and industries since 1992.

Certainly, a re-evaluation of how we do things is in order. One of Bob Marley’s songs so aptly describes the situation we find ourselves in; ‘In an abundance of water the fool is thirsty’. Are we fools? I hope not.

Yours faithfully,

Everall Franklin, MP