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Environmental reports criticised by Amerindian groups already 'discussed'

By Robeson Benn

Tuesday, February 14th 2006 STABROEK NEWS, GUYANA

Head of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Robeson Benn, says the three Environmental and Social Assessment (ESA) reports, which Amerindian groups are disputing had already been discussed last year and there was no need to repeat this. The Upper Mazaruni Amerindian District Council (UMADC) and the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) are calling for the reports to be withdrawn. However, in a brief telephone interview, Benn said the reports had already being discussed last year. Asked whether he was satisfied with the three reports, Benn hung up the phone. The UMADC and APA at a press conference two weeks ago called on the government to "immediately withdraw" the three reports done by the GGMC.

The reports: 'Environmental Impact Assessment of river dredging operations', 'Impacts on Indigenous Peoples: Social Impact Assessment', and 'Strategic Water Quality Survey in the Upper Mazaruni' were aimed at deciding whether to reopen mining in the Upper Mazaruni. "When the three EAS reports were given to us in May 2004, we unanimously rejected them all...," John Andries, Chairman of the UMADC told reporters at the press conference. In the light of their concerns, the UMADC and the APA through the Netherlands-based World Conservation Union, consulted with Robert Goodland, a World Bank author of official policies on Environmental Assessment and Indigenous Peoples. The UMADC said it rejected the reports on several grounds including the qualification of those who compiled the report, the time frame in which the studies for the report was done - cited as one month - and the procedure employed in going about the study. Persons conducting the studies shared out questionnaires in just two of the six communities making up the UMADC without consulting community leaders, Andries said. Sixty-nine (40%) questionnaires were received back of which some were incomplete, reporters were told. And the relevant GGMC reports were based on those questionnaires. The UMADC wanted the study to be "real", Andries said, as even Amerindians themselves could want to be involved in mining. The GGMC reports blamed Amerindians for major negative effects like reduced fish and wildlife, and deforestation. "They attacked the traditional way of life," Andries said. He said there was no commercial fishing in the area. Goodland said in his report: "The three volumes... are scientifically practically meaningless, unscientifically designed, undertaken by inappropriate officials and sampled at unreliable frequencies." The GGMC studies were done in December when most operations were closed, Martin Cheong, Programme Assistant, Legal Affairs Unit of the APA, told reporters at the press conference. Cheong had questioned the nature of the GGMC reports given the GENCAPD project. The GENCAPD project is a Government of Guyana (GOG)/CIDA project intended to improve mining standards which began in 1988 and extended to last year and which attracted $375M in funding.

In his examination of the three GGMC reports, Goodland said though the author of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) one "signs himself as a Consulting Geologist", with "considerable experience in assessing mining operations, including Linden Mining Co, and Omai Gold Mines, among others."

He mentioned no environmental qualifications and provided no citations for any of his previous environmental work, Goodland said. "In fact, his brief list of references (p.29) does not refer to any of his work." He was not listed in the 2004/2005 Guyana phone book, nor in the GGMC or University of Guyana Staff Directories. And he did not provide an address, e-mail or any affiliation, Goodland stated. "Contrast this with Charles Ceres' 2003 EA for Romanex's Marudi Mountain gold mine; he provides his address and affiliation transparently. Although an engineer and presumably in the gold industry, Ceres provides much more substance than those from GGMC." Andries spoke of the fear of drugs, sexually transmitted diseases and the increase of prostitution as social impacts with increased mining in the areas. Goodland listed 19 others in his report. The GGMC social volume did document that most respondents (71%) were totally unaware that GGMC intended to permit gold dredges in the area, Goodland said. The affected people have "great apprehension over social and health concerns" from the mining (p.14). The social report also acknowledged that turbidity and mounds of tailings will be problematic (p.14), Goodland states in his report. In analysis of the Strategic Water Quality Survey in the Upper Mazaruni Goodland states: "This could be construed as the most misleading of the three sections of the EIA mandated by the minister and by the Commissioner of GGMC. Strategic EA must be undertaken by independent parties; this work was performed by employees of GGMC. The water sampling took place over a single six day period in December 2003 and the report is dated January 2004. Any reliable idea of water quality needs to take account of seasonal fluctuations in flow rates and most other aspects of quality. The Upper Mazaruni is well known to be a strongly seasonal river as there is a pronounced dry season. Therefore the results of a single sampling period are almost meaningless for water quality."

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