Alisha Ousman is challenging BK International and its claim that Barakara Falls is a necessary casualty as the company seeks to expand its quarry operations in the Region Seven area. Ousman said the authorities could not permit the company to tear down the falls because “it has value to the tourism industry.” She said the company should not be allowed to destroy the area on the grounds of developmental needs.
Ousman manages Won-derland Tours and has been in the business for many years, taking over from her father and earning a living through the provision of services for overseas visitors. She initially drew attention to what was occurring at Barakara Falls last week and has continued her campaign to save the falls. She insists her fight has just started and told this newspaper, “BK will not be allowed to do this unchallenged.”
On Friday during a media tour to the Mazaruni area, which was sponsored by BK International, Ousman showed up and confronted the businessman about his plans to destroy the area. “What you are doing is not right, you cannot destroy that falls and ask people to bring tourists to see this, this thing you are developing; it is not even a falls,” Ousman charged. She accused BK’s Managing Director Brian Tiwari of using his influence to dictate what happens in the area.
But Tiwari refuted this saying he had financed a study in the area conducted some five years ago to determine where to expand his quarry operations. He told Ousman to quit pretending she was interested in the area, saying that for years no one maintained the spot where the falls are. He said too that government had spent millions maintaining Kyk-Over-Al and that tourist operators had field trips there and usually left the place in a mess. “Why don’t you guys adopt Kyk-Over-Al?” he asked, saying it too was in the Mazaruni River.
BK International public relations representative, Kit Nascimento also joined in the row and he told Ousman that Kyk-Over-Al had greater historical value than Barakara. He said Kyk-Over-Al was an official tourist site, which the government had invested it, adding that Barakara was never an official tourist site with any official status. He argued the tourist industry also had to take its share the blame for many of the things that had gone wrong in the area such as a pile-up of garbage at the falls.
“What we are dealing with here is an understandable, emotional attachment to these falls; that is the reality,” Nascimento said of Ousman’s objections. He then declared that people had to move on, noting the issue was really about balancing BK’s production concerns and its benefit to the country as against the environmental damage which was a consequence of this. He added that many tourist facilities in the Linden area had been destroyed by bauxite mining.
Ousman argued access to Barakara Falls had been easy prior to BK International’s expansion to the area. Nascimento described the area where the falls were as an ordinary, natural site untouched in the jungle. He said he had a personal attachment to the falls because he was married there. He noted his resort at Hurukabara also utilized Barakara Falls, but stopped some time ago because he had been disturbed by the fact the area had not been maintained by tourist operators. He said frankly that the nature of quarry operations was that the environment suffered, but he stressed BK International was doing so “responsibly.”
According to Nascimento, complaints about the conditions at Barakara Falls had been registered with regional officials in Region Seven. He said the Region disowned any responsibility. “…They have said this is not an official tourist site, we don’t maintain it, we have no budget for it, and it is not within our economic purview.” He noted that BK International deserved some credit for developing another site to replace Barakara Falls.
BK International has announced that it would develop the site, which was previously the ‘Teperu Hydro,’ and which had a micro-hydro falls, into a major tourist destination complete with amenities and added luxuries; it would be another six months before the site began to take shape. Tiwari said on Friday that the Mazaruni area had “thousands of falls” which tour operators could easily adopt and take field tours to. He said Barakara was a man-made falls “which emerged from quarry operations,” declaring that many other such structures are likely spread across the area because of the existing quarry operations dating back decades.
But Ousman disagrees. She said the arguments about Barakara being in a mess were untruths which were being peddled. Her company was part of a team of tour operators that maintained the area, but given that it was open to the public they had been unable to stop a pile-up of garbage. She said the area where the falls were located needed to be protected and not torn down, and she vowed to fight BK International before it blasted the area.