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8th international session: Testimonies from our partners

Which of IFGR’s works stands out for you and how do you think you can continue them?

 

Our session was organised with the Pasteur Institute of Guyana, a member of IFGR and with the collaboration of the Prefecture of the Region, the ARS Guyana and the Territorial Authority of Guyana. We present here their first testimonies.

Frédéric Bouteille, Sub-prefect to the communes of the interior, Prefecture of the Region

 

What stands out for you regarding IFGR’s visit to French Guyana?

The visit by IFGR’s delegation to French Guyana gave the actors of the territory a genuine opportunity to look at daily topics such as the environment, health and social cohesion in perspective. I’d like to extend my warm thanks to IFGR for having made the audacious choice of Guyana and the River Maroni for its visit and sessions.

The immersion of the delegation’s members in this complex territory made it possible to compare Guyana’s realities with the most diverse experiences from other countries. It appears in particular that the historic and cultural characteristics specific to the Maroni, and the structures induced by life on the river, are quite comparable with what can be observed in Senegal, Australia and even Canada. The presence of indigenous peoples and the river’s role as a border crossed by them are actually characteristics more widespread than might have been imagined at first sight. Also, it is important to be able to compare different approaches regarding these themes.

In Guyana, one activity on the river stands out, that of gold prospecting. What is the impact of this activity on the river and the health of the populations?

The history of gold prospection in Guyana goes way back since gold has been prospected here since the 19th century. However, since the beginning of the 2000s and the spectacular rise in the value of gold on the world market, there has been a boom in this activity. Mining has become the country’s second most important industrial activity regarding exports, after the space industry.
The River Maroni is greatly affected by clandestine gold prospecting, which exploits the alluvial gold using huge barges that modify the bed of the main channel, while motorized pumps gouge the banks of the tributaries and increase the turbidity of the water with dramatic effects on the aquatic fauna. This is in addition to pollution by the mercury used in large quantities to amalgamate the gold particles and which can be found throughout the food chain in the river. The populations that traditionally live by and from the river, of Amerindian and Bushinengue origin, are directly affected by this pollution. Then there are the direct nuisances, the cortege of criminals that inevitably surrounds illegal gold prospection and the difficulty of finding alternatives to such a lucrative activity, in order to achieve sustainable socioeconomic development.

What is the government’s strategy for combating this scourge and in what way did IFGR enhance consideration on this issue?

The territory’s geographic characteristics make it difficult to control this activity and the strategy for fighting illegal gold prospection consists in constantly harassing the prospectors in order to increase their production costs. The government has given itself the resources to combat illegal gold prospection and fishing (EMOPI) efficiently by setting up a department that takes every dimension of the problem into account and coordinates all the actors involved in this mission.

Indeed, although repressive action, from the gendarmerie and armed forces in Guyana, is vital, we have to improve collaboration with our Suriname and Brazilian neighbors, and develop economic alternatives to activities related to illegal gold prospection. This means making diplomatic efforts and setting in action all the socioeconomic levers in Guyana. What’s more, associating the populations themselves in the combat against this scourge is indispensable to ensure the efficiency of the policies implemented. This is the reason why an adapted operational reserve was launched last summer to allow young persons from the different communities to take this path.

The cultural and social foundations of Guyana are very removed from European French standards and demand constant adaptation and innovation when approaching situations. By presenting the conclusions of its works at the Prefecture, the IFGR delegation actively participated in this reflection by evoking sustainable mines and cross-border collaboration bodies based on international experiences. I also remember the proposal of work on religions and beliefs in Amerindian and Bushinengue country, as they represent another aspect of understanding the challenges of this territory. However, this has been scarcely documented until now.

Mirdad Kazanji, Director of the Pasteur Institute of Guyana

Thanks to Initiatives for the Future of Great Rivers, Guyana hosted for the first time this kind of meeting. It gathered many river managers and international experts on water, biodiversity and health. During these five days, the exchanges were very varied and rich. In addition, the experts had the opportunity to visit the Maroni River in Saint-Laurent du Maroni where they became aware of the complexity of this river, the history of the people who live there and the health issues. The objective of this international session was not only to study the links between river and health. Other topics such as the influence of illegal gold mining activities on the global health, the soaring demography in this region or the impact of the climate change are also important for Guyana and the entire Amazon region. I think that we must all be responsible for the preservation of this territory, which is very rich in culture and biodiversity, and we have to build together a sustainable joint project that takes into account the health of Men, the river and all the surrounding ecosystems. They are intimately linked.

Emilie Ventura, Region councillor, Territorial Authority of Guyana

Reducing the territory’s isolation is the objective to be achieved in order to help Guyana to be master of its own destiny. The Maroni river holds multiple missions and vocations that need to be better understood and managed. Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for your attendance, for your vigilance about the challenges we have to face and for the recommendations you can make.

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