Some miners are causing widespread damage to our rivers and interior communities
Stabroek News
October 24, 2001

Dear Editor,

I had forwarded to the Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), and to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about one month ago, a report accompanied by a photograph, submitted to me by a member of an expedition mounted by the President's Youth Award Programme, of mining activities observed in the Kaieteur Gorge.

Assurances were given that action would have been initiated by the relevant officials, for checks to be carried out in order to follow up on the report.

I have since had the opportunity to record my own observations during an over flight on 17/18 October 2001, of the Region 7 and Region 8 riverain areas and I wish to highlight these for the benefit of the public. My reasons for doing so are:

Firstly, I am not oblivious of the deficiencies in. the human, material and financial resources that are required to effectively monitor and to enforce the appropriate regulations, which apply to the management of our natural resources and of the environment.

Secondly, while I believe that the majority of our hard working miners are aware of the responsibilities which devolve on them to manage their claims and concessions in a manner consistent with the regulations, there are some, who, in the absence of sustained official monitoring of the Mining Districts, throw ' caution to the wind' and 'cut corners' with the aim of limiting expenditure on the overhead costs of adhering to the required environmentally - friendly mining procedures.

Such perpetrators, local or foreign, threaten the integrity of an industry which has played a significant role in Guyana's economy and which has provided employment for thousands. They, quite unfairly, bring the Mining Industry into disrepute and should be identified by the Gold and Diamond Miners Association, the GGMC and the EPA and be 'brought to heel'- swiftly and condignly.

Thirdly, I would posit that civil society needs to take a more pro-active role in ensuring that regulations which seek to promote the survivability of our biological resources and the sustainability of ourselves and future generations, are honoured by those who are legally bound to adhere to such regulations and also, by those officials who are empowered to monitor and to enforce compliance, as warranted.'

In spite of the limitations on State- funded resources referred to earlier, pro-active interest and involvement of communities can have a multiplier effect on monitoring and enforcement and will result in greater deterrence and compliance.


Kuribrong, Potaro and Konawaruk Rivers.

Some operators of alluvial dredges seem to have a total disregard for mining regulations as they apply to mining into the banks of these rivers. Sections of the riverbanks are being excavated and tailings dumped haphazardly in the channels of these rivers. In fact, the profiles of these rivers are being changed and the visual image to any aircraft passenger -Guyanese, tourist, or visiting official, suggests a situation bordering on anarchy in these rivers. In 1994, I had cause to express publicly my view that the Konawaruk River was 'dying'. Current observation of the landscape through which the pre 1987 river meandered, would suggest that the Konawaruk river is now ecologically 'dead".

Kaieteur Gorge

It is confirmed that at least four (4) dredges are operating in the Gorge between the Amatuk and Waratuk Falls.

Several campsites were seen below the canopy on both sides of the Potaro River and this seems to validate the earlier 'ground' reports of large-scale illegal mining in an area contiguous to the Kaieteur National Park. This Park is being marketed as an international tourist attraction and regrettably, it failed to gain acceptance on a first application by Guyana for it to be accorded the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The landscape East of the Mahdia Township and airstrip resembles a cratered disaster area. The 'White Hole' and 'Red Hole' mining locations, which saw intense mining activities within the past decade, are testimony to the uncontrolled and irregular techniques, which have given rise to these environmental hazards to health and the surface water system.

Essequibo River

Immediately below Omai in the Essequibo River, several alluvial dredges are currently being operated. Tailings from the hydraulic mining have been deposited indiscriminately in the channel of the main river. Mining of the banks of the river is also very evident. It is quite surprising, given the reported frequency of movement and monitoring in relation to the Omai Gold Mines Ltd operations, a mere 100 metres upstream, that such clear breaches of mining and environmental regulations are being ignored.

It would be most interesting for a study to be done of satellite imagery over the middle and lower Essequibo River over the past two decades, in order to establish the impact of tailings and excessive sediment loading, on the proliferation of 'small' islands in these portions of the river.

The serious flooding in the upper Essequibo in 2000, resulting in the river rising nine (9) metres in the area of Gunn's strip and causing the Wai Wai to relocate to higher ground, may be attributed to the constricted river channel, as a result of the build up of railings and proliferation of 'small' islands in the Essequibo River below Konawaruk.

This is not an exhaustive list of observations but is representative of the callous disregard for regulatory measures, not by any means limited to the mining sector, which results currently in negative impacts on the health and livelihood of residents of the hinterland and which, in the medium and longer term, will have adverse effects on watershed management and consequential downstream effects on the coastal plain, on the sustainability of the well-being of the population and on the intrinsic and existence values of Guyana's biological resources and diverse eco-systems.

It is incumbent on all of us to avoid exposing future generations of Guyanese to the trauma of environmental disasters which can be attributed to negligence in the managing of Guyana's natural resources.

In reflecting on this profound responsibility, let us be inspired to contribute to the shaping of a legacy of which we can be truly proud.

Yours faithfully,

Joseph G Singh

Major General (retd)