One thing I noticed immediately when I first moved back to Guyana several years ago was how loud the place was. I’d lived in big cities for many years, but even so, I was not prepared for the sound of Guyana. From the booming minibuses, church halls, bars, clubs, rum shops, and neighbours-the level of noise in Guyana was astounding, and that wasn’t even taking into consideration the road traffic and industrial/construction noise.
In other places around the world, there is a zoning system which separates land into different usage areas such as residential, commercial, or recreational. Under such a system, churches, bars/clubs, industrial workshops, and other businesses are not located in the same areas where people live, in recognition by the authorities of the fact that people often want and deserve peace and quiet in their homes. Sadly however, this system is virtually nonexistent in Guyana.
While this can be remedied though, another thing that we’re lacking-which legislation cannot provide-is consideration for others. While bars/clubs/churches/ businesses eventually close, the noise coming from a neighbour can occur at any time. Too many Guyanese blast music from their homes and vehicles at ear splitting levels, without any concern for whether the people around them might want to sleep, study, be sick, or simply not be a fan of the same kind of music. Aside from being annoying, there is actual scientific evidence that too much sound, at too high a level, can be harmful to human health and well-being.
According to the World Health Organization, “Excessive noise seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time. It can disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.” The fact is that noise pollution- as excessive noise is termed-has both temporary and longer-term negative effects on our well-being.
Hearing loss is the first and most obvious effect. This can occur with prolonged exposure to sound at 85 decibels or higher (for reference, the sound of a hairdryer is 90 dB and a motorcycle 95 dB). This is why protective gear is essential for workers at airports, factories and other noisy industries. However, the other effects of noise pollution are also serious.
Excessive noise triggers the nervous, hormonal, and immune systems and numerous studies have confirmed that noise pollution increases heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels, while decreasing memory, productivity, reading comprehension, problem solving, and quality of life. Data actually links noise pollution to premature deaths from heart disease.
The fact that noise pollution increases stress level and reduces the quality of our sleep also has wide-ranging implications for our health. Sleeplessness and stress are contributing factors to numerous diseases, and also impact how well and quickly we recover from illness/injury. In addition, there is evidence that noise can increase aggression and reduce empathy. Let us remember as well that noise has been used as a tool of psychological torture.
Although people can become accustomed to regular noise, the body still registers these harmful effects. For instance, even when we’re asleep, our heart rate and blood pressure rises with passing airplanes. Lack of control over noise also worsens the effects. Children, the elderly, those with underlying depression and other chronic illnesses, are especially vulnerable as they may lack the necessary coping skills. (Animals are also negatively affected by noise pollution- something to consider when setting off fireworks etc).
It is of course impossible to control all noise. However, our environments today are filled with too much noise that, over time, adds up to seriously undermine our health and well-being. Something that many seem not to realize anymore is that silence, or just quietness, is in fact essential for our survival. Schools in America that implemented ‘Quiet Time’ programmes saw a decrease in violence among students as well as increased academic performance and graduation rates. Quiet downtime is necessary to recharge and de-stress, boosting our creativity, concentration, and problem-solving abilities. As such, we need to start taking noise pollution seriously and putting real thought into how to reduce it.
Implementing and enforcing zoning restrictions is one strategy, especially in communities that are still under development. Care should be taken when locating schools, childcare centres, and hospitals in particular, to make sure they are away from airports and other high traffic or industrial zones, and to keep the areas around them quiet. As such, planning authorities have a major role to play. Law enforcement is also key. Guyana does have laws against noise nuisance but these are often not properly enforced, with corruption and bribery of police officers by offending individuals often taking precedence over safeguarding the rights of victims. As citizens, we need to demand that our police and other public servants do their work properly and enforce the laws of the land.
We also need to encourage more empathy and consideration for others in Guyanese society today; we must build these skills in the youth especially. People must realize that it is not only their individual needs and desires that matter, but to be more mindful of their neighbors as well- those who live in bottom house apartments, those who may be nursing a migraine, hangover, sick child or elderly relative, or who may have an exam to study for, report or project to complete. We must realize that we are fully capable of enjoying ourselves without blasting the sound; in fact, we might even be able to hear what our friends and loved ones are saying, imagine that! Similarly, God does not measure our piety and devotion by how loud the sermon is. Lastly, as passengers in public minibuses, remember that the vehicle is not for the private pleasure of the driver and conductor and we are fully within our rights as paying passengers to request that too loud music be turned down, or to exit the bus if necessary. Shhh, for greater health and wellness. Sherlina can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org