Gold mining in Guyana is booming. It’s the country’s biggest export. Last year Guyana exported gold worth US$1 billion. But government is failing to address the serious environmental and social impacts caused by gold mining.
Much of the mining is currently small-scale. A 2007 report by Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Programme found that the government had failed to regulate wildcat miners and failed to protect the rights of indigenous peoples. Gold mining had polluted rivers with mercury, increased malaria and caused deforestation.
Bonnie Docherty of Harvard’s Human Rights Programme said,
“Medium- and small-scale gold mining as currently practised and regulated inflict severe environmental, health, and social damage on the areas and people near mining operations. Our observations confirmed that the areas around mines resemble a moonscape of barren, mounded sand and mud. Since small-scale miners typically wash the topsoil away in order to get to the gold-bearing clayey soil underneath, the sites of former mines are quite infertile and incapable of supporting regenerated rainforest.”
In 2009, Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana’s then-president, released his Low Carbon Development Strategy. While the LCDS acknowledges the importance of limiting deforestation and forest degradation from gold mining, and in the most recent update of the LCDS (March 2013), the government claims that,
“since the LCDS was launched, the Government has redoubled efforts to ensure that mining practices are continually improved and aligned with international best practice over time.”
Recently, Mark Jacobs, a Guyanese blogger, flew over Region 1 Barima Waini, Region 7 Cuyuni Mazaruni, and Region 8 Potaro Siparuni. His trip was nothing to do with gold mining, but he has posted 95 photographs of forests, rivers and mining operations on his blog.
The “moonscape of barren, mounded sand and mud” that Harvard’s Human Rights Programme found has expanded. Here’s a sample of the photographs:
Guyana’s record with large-scale gold mining is, if anything, even worse. Commissioned in 1993, the Omai gold mine, was a joint venture between Cambior Inc. (Canada, 65% share), Golden Star Resources (USA, 30%) and Guyana’s government (5%). The mine became internationally notorious two years later when a tailings dam failed and 120 million gallons of cyanide-treated mining waste poured into the Omai and Essequibo Rivers. The mine continued operations until 2005. In 2011, the mine was reopened, run by a Canadian company, Mahdia Gold Corp.
More large scale gold mines are to come. In May 2014, an Australian company called Troy Resources Limited announced its plans to invest US$90 million in a gold mine in Guyana’s north-west Cuyuni region. Another Canadian company, Guyana Goldfields Inc, plans to open a US$205 million gold mine this year.
In 2011, Vemund Olson of Rainforest Foundation Norway told the BBC that,
“I am yet to see any concrete action by the Guyanese government to make sure more mining does not lead to increased deforestation in the long term.”
Three years on, nothing has changed, except that the damage to Guyana’s indigenous peoples, forests and rivers has increased.