Environmental Protection Efforts in a Developing Country: The Case of Guyana

Article excerpt

This paper demonstrates that after decades of environmental resource exploitation, degradation and contamination of Guyana's environment, the government, democratically elected on October 5, 1992, inherited a legacy of environmental problems which include the cumulative adverse effects of unbridled logging and mining, heavy metal contamination of soils and sediments, poisoning of water resources, pesticide contamination, highly polluting liquid and solid wastes, and losses of life sustaining ecological resources. To deal with potential environmental problems and to take remedial actions toward existing problems the government, for the first time in Guyana's history, enacted environmental protection legislation, passed environmentally-related acts and laws, and embraced sustainable development goals.

While various acts and laws are aimed at environmental protection, this paper, nevertheless, emphasizes that environmental degradation and contamination will continue unabated unless the government addresses several constraints, among them administrative neglect and unethical practices, fragmented environmental institutions, inadequate monitoring and enforcement capabilities, inherited foreign debts, irresponsible environmental practices of multinationals, and a paucity of environmental education programs.

Ever since Sir Walter Raleigh fired the imagination of European explorers with his 1596 book, The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana, the environment and resources of Guyana have been indiscriminately and irresponsibly exploited. Prior to 1992 there were inadequate or nonexistent laws and legislation to prevent the exploitation and degradation of Guyana's abiotic and biotic resources. When the Peoples Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) came to power on October 5, 1992, the government that was formed inherited a legacy of environmental problems, including the cumulative adverse effects of unbridled logging and mining, heavy metal contamination of soils and sediments, poisoning of water resources, pesticide contamination, highly polluting liquid and solid wastes, and losses of life-sustaining ecological resources.

Although in 1992 Guyana was one of the most indebted countries in the world, with debt consuming more than 80 percent of generated revenues (Jagan, 1994) the new government, nevertheless, embarked on several initiatives to protect the country's environmental resources, and to enhance the quality of the existing environment. This paper assesses the environmental initiatives of the PPP/Civic government, which has been the main political party in power since October 1992. To be able to evaluate objectively the government's efforts at environmental protection it is necessary to provide an account of historical anthropogenic activities that contributed to the deteriorating environment inherited by the PPP/Civic. First this paper provides an account of research methodology, and a brief overview of Guyana's environment and resources.

Remarks on Research Methodology

Since 1990, the authors and various graduate students from the University of Windsor have been engaged in a program of environmental monitoring and environmental management in Guyana. Other than establishing two research stations to systematically obtain measurements on environmental variables, supporting data and documents have also been obtained from various government agencies, libraries, archives, and previous field investigations in Guyana (for example, Singh and Lakhan, 1994; Lakhan et al., 1995; Lakhan and LaValle, 1996).

A more elaborate environmental research program was initiated in 1997 when the Canada Caribbean Research Group provided financial support to the senior author to conduct a study on environmental concerns and environmental protection efforts in Guyana. To facilitate successful completion of this research a thorough assessment was made of all existing published and unpublished environmental material. …

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