Reports of irresponsible mining led to cessation of river claims – GGMC

The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) says it has been overwhelmed by reports from stakeholders of damage caused by “increasingly irresponsible mining in Guyana’s rivers and tributaries” and this is what has led to a cessation of approvals of river claims.

Effective June 1, 2012 no application for river claims has been processed by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), according to a GGMC ad in the Guyana Times on July 1st.

In a statement yesterday explaining its decision, the GGMC said that as a consequence of the reports, and a review of the negative impacts of river mining, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, through the GGMC, decided against accepting any new applications for river claims until further notice and consultation, particularly, with Amerindians and riverine communities.

It listed some of the negative effects of river mining as:

* Damage to the river banks which cannot be reclaimed within a short period and which will usually take several years to mitigate.

* Widening of the river channel and weakening of soil at river banks resulting in toppling of trees into the river course. Blockages and changes to the main river channels resulting in unnavigable channels in the dry seasons. This has implications for  navigation and safety on the waterways

* Complaints from communities downstream of active river dredge operations, highlighting their inability to undertake subsistence fishing and hunting, washing and bathing and to access potable water in proximity to settlements

* Increased turbidity of rivers and creeks resulting in:-

– Reduced visibility and light penetration in water causing a reduction of the photosynthetic ability of aquatic plants, often resulting in death

– Inhibition of respiration of some species of fish resulting in their death. The death of a few susceptible species causes significant impacts on the food web and can result in a reduction of freshwater fish species which are a primary source of food for riverain communities.

– Unsuitable water for drinking.

* Devaluation of the tourism product including sports fishing.

* Large sand and gravel islands created in the river resulting in restriction of water flow and flooding upstream.

Industry sources note that these scourges have been prevalent for many years in mining districts and led to the `death’ of the Konawaruk River and serious damage to several others. The sources say the timing of this move is more likely linked to the forest protection deal which was clinched with Norway two years ago.

The GGMC release said that studies are also being done to determine the extent of the environmental damage caused by river mining and especially by the sophisticated river dredges, many of which operate on a 24 hour basis.

On May 11 this year, the Guyana Human Rights Association accused the GGMC of being overwhelmed by turmoil in the mining sector.

In a statement it said: “Turmoil reigns in the mining sector with the GGMC appearing to be overwhelmed by the scale of the problem.  Due to the attractive price of gold Guyanese from all over the country along with an unknown large number of foreigners (Brazil, Canada, Australia) are invading mining areas.  Most small-scale miners are engaged in land dredging (4” hoses) but the tailings still drain into the rivers, particularly at the sources.

More rivers are taking on the characteristics of the Konawaruk which years ago was declared to be ‘dead’ by the current Chair of the GGMC. Rivers are being diverted by dredging operations which follow seams wherever they lead.

Reports have been received of villages in the Pomeroon head and the Barama river losing most of their wildlife because of logging and mining activities.  Dengue, typhoid and malaria testing are not available in most community health centres and the incidence is rising. “

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