APNU accused of making partisan statement on environment

– following call for comprehensive strategy

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) says that Guyana’s environmental realities will continue to degenerate unless the Government of Guyana (GoG) produces a comprehensive National Environment Strategy but government says the coalition’s statements are “poorly-advised and partisan”.

Despite efforts made so far, the coalition says, air pollution, deforestation and public health in Guyana have become worse and continue to degenerate, and while it noted the Government’s Low Carbon Development Strategy, which is aimed at fostering development while curbing deforestation, Opposition Leader David Granger labelled the initiative insufficient to tackle Guyana’s environmental issue as a whole.

The initiative is necessary but insufficient, coalition Executive Member Rupert Roopnaraine reiterated during APNU’s press brief last Friday. He said that while it addresses deforestation and related implications, there are no provisions for the many other problems the country faces.

Parmanand Persaud of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE) however responded to the coalition’s criticisms on Sunday, claiming that by making such statements the APNU has “chosen to misinform the public about its positions on environmental sustainability and to obscure its own inefficiency to support the government’s calls for sustainable development and the advancement of a green economy.”

Persaud claimed APNU publicly indicated its position on establishing a green economy when it “failed to commit and support regulations for the government proposed environmental tax for all plastic receptacles which is a means for tackling the garbage situation in the country,” and also when it refused support for “major Low Carbon Development projects including the Amaila project.”

The ministry has developed a natural resources and environmental strategy which the opposition is aware of and which development it participated in, Persaud said in his statement.

Nevertheless, APNU was extremely critical of what it said was government’s inability to effectively address the environmental issues which continue to plague the country.

“The uncontrolled and uncontrollable dumping of garbage, burning of toxic waste, not least the styrofoam containers that litter communities, and the resultant dangerous pollutants released by garbage burning are features of daily life, particularly if you are not serviced by reliable disposal facilities,” Roopnaraine said. On the issue of litter in particular, he argued that it can be almost immediately mitigated if certain steps are taken.

APNU said a policy banning the now prominent use of plastic bags and other containers can be implemented, while mandatory recycling policies can be explored. Such policies will curb the amount of non-biodegradable material entering the country and eventually ending up in the environment as refuse. While Roopnaraine acknowledged that government has undertaken a policy to ease the use of styrofoam, he said the two-year timetable is too long, and suggested that the policy should have been implemented as soon as possible. Despite these claims though, the government said solid waste management has been on its agenda since the establishment of the MNRE in 2011.

To this end, Persaud stated, the ministry has spearheaded the preparation of proposals on mechanisms to reduce the use of “non-biodegradable packaging (plastics and Styrofoam) in Guyana through the Implementation of Waste Policies mechanisms for the Reduction on Non-Biodegradable packaging in Guyana.”

Further, Persaud said, the ministry supports the Local Government Ministry in addressing the infrastructural needs for the improvement of solid waste management by assisting in the identification of suitable sites. Yet another of its efforts, he said, is the ‘Pick It Up’ campaign which was launched in 2012. He explained that under this initiative several clean-up exercises, involving a wide array of participants, have taken place.

Where air pollution is concerned, he said,  the 1996 Act mandates the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce the country’s pollution laws through the courts. Persaud noted though, that the existing procedure has deficiencies, and said that the ministry has been working towards correcting these. In the interim, “the agency continues to investigate and monitor several operations with air pollution issues.”

He said the ministry is moving to establish a Water Quality Unit which will have a dedicated role in this area. Mining areas have received particular attention and the EPA has partnered with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission to conduct water quality and turbidity tests as a component of its monitoring and enforcement exercises in mining districts.

He added that the ministry is committed to caring for the marine environment, noting that Guyana ratified the Cartagena Convention in 2010, which “signalled Guyana’s commitment to address coastal and marine pollution issues.” While admitting that the implementation of the commitment is in the early stages, the ministry’s moves to phase out the use of mercury in mining operations are testament to its dedication to improving public health, Persaud said. He said the Government of Guyana “recognizes the environmental health risks of mercury use and pollution and supports the implementation of a global legally binding instrument on mercury in order to prohibit its production, export and use.

Coastal Zone Management and deforestation have also been very high on the agenda of the ministry, Persaud said, noting that where the former is concerned the National Protected Areas Act was developed through which the Protected Areas Commission was established. As a result of this initiative, Shell Beach and the Kanuku Mountains have both been declared protected areas. He noted that this area is on the last stretch of Guyana’s coast that still has black, white and red mangroves, and the preservation of this flora is high on the government’s agenda.

Even as Persaud outlined these initiatives though, APNU was unrelenting in its criticism of the government’s handling of Guyana’s environmental issues.

During the press brief on Friday, Roopnaraine said even the developmental patterns adopted by many Guyanese and allowed by many government officials are negatively impacting Guyana’s environment. He explained that the heavy use of glass windows in the many high-rise buildings going up all over the capital has increased temperature in Georgetown notably. He added that the popular decision of forsaking the planting of trees for concrete construction will also be a contributor to rising temperatures.

But rising temperature is not the only cause for worry. Roopnaraine said, “The paving over of green spaces, the flash floods in neighbourhoods that follow a few hours of rain and sodden streets even when we face blazing temperatures in the city are the daily environmental stresses that many citizens endure.”

Addressing these ills requires a regulatory framework, including zoning along with persons who are trained and empowered to impose fines, advise businesses and homeowners, APNU says. Even the existence of the EPA will not be enough address the situation until this agency is imbued with independence, and adequate resources. For our environmental issues to be properly addressed, the APNU asserts, governance structures which are supposed to exist at the regional and community levels need to be functioning effectively. Unfortunately though, local government elections have not been held since 1994 which has taken a serious toll on the capacity of Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs), Municipalities and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (RDCs) to execute their responsibilities.

As such, Roopnaraine said, “the cry for local government elections is not simply the need to address the longstanding democratic deficit: it is the beginning of the solution to address the monumental work of humanising our communities across the country.”

Environmental issues in the hinterland are also of concern, Roopnaraine says. In relation to the development taking place in these areas, he asked, “What does it mean to argue for large-scale farming in say the Rupununi if it means that a pristine national and global wetland may be destroyed? Who will benefit if the choice is weighed in favour of the foreign direct investor or even the local investor who, it is argued, will provide large money flows,” and “what of the peoples who once maintained these lands and used them to as a source of income?”

According to Granger, Guyana’s environmental realities enable it to develop and maintain a green economy. Such an economy, he argued, would generate wealth towards the country’s development while maintaining the integrity of its environment.

A strategy must therefore be created to achieve this, he said, and while APNU charged government to construct this strategy, the coalition is also encouraging stakeholders to start expressing their ideas on such a society can be achieved and maintained.