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Caring for the health of rivers and human beings: the case of the Maroni

Constant interaction between fresh and salt water, the atmosphere and human beings is turning water pollution into a major issue with myriad consequences. It can be summed up in a single phrase: human health depends on the health of rivers. In October 2017, IFGR focused on this issue and particularly on the analytical methods and tools required to understand and evaluate the phenomenon of pollution, and on the levers that have been tried and tested on rivers in order to combat it.

We are continuing this work this year by devoting our 8th international session (from 15 to 19 April) to the issue of health, by taking the example of the River Maroni in French Guiana. Invited by the Pasteur Institute, our experts will meet the stakeholders of Cayenne and Saint-Laurent du Maroni, to deal with three major themes: the prevention of infectious and waterborne diseases; access to potable water and drainage; and the activities of clandestine gold prospectors and health.

Water, a vital and structural resource

French Guiana, the largest French overseas department and the only one in South America, is a territory faced with many challenges: demographic, migratory, economic and more. The river lies at the heart of these challenges for several reasons.

Despite the abundancy of its water (French Guiana ranks third in the world for its available water resources according to UNESCO), it is nonetheless unequally distributed.

What is more, water is a structural element of the territory’s geography. The Oyapok and the Maroni, two large rivers, form natural borders, the former with Brazil and the latter with Suriname. Water forges the identity of the communities who live on their banks: the Bushinengues, an Amerindian people, have always lived with the lush nature of Guiana, its Amazonian forest and its many rivers.



The main corridor for transport in spite of its many cascades, the Maroni has always served as a route and melting pot where populations pass between the communes of the Upper Maroni and its estuary and between the countries it separates: access to schools, healthcare, legal and illegal trade, and so forth. It is essential for the territory’s development. However, the river remains barely developed or exploited. Its waters are polluted by mercury used by the clandestine gold prospectors to amalgamate gold, causing pollution that contaminates fishes and eventually the inhabitants. They are also vectors of bacteria and viruses. Typhoid, cholera and diarrhoea affect isolated populations without direct access to drinking water. In addition, there are the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes with which Guiana has long been confronted: malaria, yellow fever, dengue, etc.

So, how can prevention and access to care be improved for inland populations? By acting against illegal prospecting and protecting the health of the prospectors? By reducing exposure to waterborne diseases? How can countries cooperate to better manage water resources?

These are some of the questions that IFGR’s members will tackle alongside scientists, doctors, the local authorities and, of course, the community representatives  brought together on the occasion of our session.

This session is organised in partnership with the Territorial Authorities of Guiana, the Prefecture of Guiana and the ARS.

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