GGMC team to check Arau pollution complaints

The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) has dispatched a team to Arau, Region Seven to investigate environmentally unfriendly mining practices following a report in this newspaper on Monday.

The mining industry regulatory agency’s acting Head, William Woolford said that a full report will be made later in the week. He told the Government Information Agency (GINA) that “even though the GGMC recently confirmed that there was no mining outside the titled area an investigation has been launched and operations if discovered will be stopped”.

The mines that journalists visited last week were outside of the titled land but in areas surrounding the community, which Arau residents consider their traditional land. Stabroek News had last July published articles on the plight of the remote Region Seven (Cuyuni/Mazuruni) community and according to a statement from GINA on Monday night, “the first report of illegal mining was investigated and an ultimatum was issued to stop holders of mining properties outside the titled area from conducting operations that would affect the well-being of the community and residents”.

The statement also said that GINA spoke with a “resident” of the community, Clarence Dabreo, who said that the leaders of Arau should bear some of the blame for the current problems since they have been guilty of granting permission to Brazilians and locals outside of the community to mine on the reservation. This newspaper has established that Dabreo is not a resident of the community and, according to court documents in an ongoing case, he is the holder of mining concessions in the area. He had also been involved in a previous court case against the Arau community.

Chief of the village, Devroy Thomas had told this newspaper at Arau that a few persons had been allowed to mine in the titled area but due to their environmentally unfriendly practices, they had been asked to leave. The village also has an operation within their titled land.

Additionally, as reported earlier, when this newspaper was in the area last week, an operation at Arau Top was issued with a cease-work order by the local mines ranger because the mine was operating in the Arau River, blocking it in breach of the mining regulations. The following day, reports said, the concession owner, who was identified as Dabreo, arrived from the city and reportedly told the Ranger that a named senior GGMC official had given him permission to resume operations and had reportedly assured him that he was not breaking any mining laws.

This, the residents had told this newspaper, is a microcosm of the problem faced by them, where reports from the ground are not heeded by those at the GGMC headquarters. The area where the breach took place was visited by this newspaper last year where at the time a portion of the river had already been diverted. On that last visit this reporter took photos of that area including the blocked portion of the river and the new path of the river. Photos were also taken of the same area during last week’s trip but it now bears no resemblance to the image taken last year and the Arau River does not flow where it once used to.

Meantime, according to GINA, Dabreo said that miners from the community, many of whom he said, operated through the Rocky Mountain Resources, comply with the laws and mine with the environment at heart. GINA quoted him as stating that they are not creating the problems. “All the problems are created by those who are going to Georgetown and are trying to win sympathy”, he told GINA  adding that Brazilians and others far exceed the community’s population and they have been cited as contributors to the pollution problem. Foreigners’ contributing to the problem, was a point raised by residents, who said that they want them to be removed.

This newspaper had visited Mango Landing, several miles away from the community at the bottom of the mountain on which Arau village is located and at the Guyana side of the Wenamu River, where many Brazilians are present. The residents too consider this area, their traditional land and several live here and had raised issues of concern to them.

“When you have so many people in one area with so many shops and night clubs they don’t take the environment in mind and that’s exactly what’s happening here”, GINA quoted Dabreo as stating. He also said that he was bold enough to bring this problem to the attention of the Arau captain and councillors and said that “there is often little concern on their part”. He said that he plans to make further representation. GINA said that GGMC is very adamant about proper mining practices even though mining is an important part of Guyana’s economy.

On Monday, this newspaper had reported that environmentally unsound mining practices continue at Arau despite many complaints to several government agencies and residents of the remote indigenous community are again pleading for proper regulation of such activities.

During a visit to the community last week by journalists, following what it said was years of pleas the Arau village council again appealed to the government and state regulatory bodies for mining and the environment, to immediately take steps to prevent further destruction of their traditional lands and the environment surrounding the village.

“The people of Arau village recognize that mining is an important form of economic activity and we have engaged in some mining of our own but what we urgently request is the proper regulation of mining to prevent further damage to the environment and to the lives of our people”, said Thomas, the chief of the village. His words were underscored by several villagers, who detailed the effects suffered as a result of the mining activities and made impassioned pleas for action to be taken. The villagers raised issues of pollution of the Arau River, damage to the land and forest, destruction of the habitat of fish, stagnant water in open pits, possible contamination due to the use of mercury, health and social issues, among others. These were the same issues previously raised when Stabroek News visited last year. Last week’s visit found that little had changed and villagers frustrated that their cries seem not to have been heard.

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