..But not a drop to drink

By John & Jean MacInnis
September 2000

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Guyana is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, with a vast network of rivers that dissect the rainforest, mountains and savannas. Guyana takes its name from the ancient Amerindian expression meaning, "land of many waters." The land is partly below sea level, and the 459 kilometer coastline is dissected by the estuaries of 16 major rivers, scores of smaller creeks and countless canals for drainage and irrigation.

A flat and marshy strip along the coast is the home for 90 percent of Guyana's population and the nation's food basket. Behind this lies a thin belt of crystalline upland containing precious minerals such as gold and diamonds. Most of the country is thick, hilly rainforest with cliffs and peaks of red sandstone.

John and I, as part of the Scarboro Missions team, have been living and teaching in New Amsterdam for the past two years. School has been closed this past week due to the rains and flooding. Guyana has two rainy seasons a year, during which an average of 200-250 centimeters of rain falls. At the moment, it's raining buckets; perhaps non-stop deluge is more appropriate.

Guyana, land of many waters, is a paradox. The beautiful rivers are the highways, the lifeline for the country. However, the sea walls, canals and drainage system are not maintained or kept clear of debris. A Guyana Chronicle editorial in March protested the garbage and industrial waste being dumped by residents and businesses into the streets and waterways. This contaminates the water and clogs the drainage system causing massive flooding during heavy rains.

Many homes around the school where I teach have pit toilets. With the flooding, people not only wade through the contaminated waters but it also seeps into the broken water pipes and wells. "Land of many waters," but not a drop to drink. John and I can boil and filter our drinking water, or buy bottled water. Few can afford to do this.

Most people in Guyana struggle with just the everyday burdens of putting food on the table and making ends meet; to them the environment seems far removed from reality. Yet environmental consequences that affect human health and the quality of life affect especially the poor.

However, there are some local signs of hope. Youth from one of the New Amsterdam churches put litter bins along the main roadway and at the market. Our school is next door to a television station across from a major canal. The owner of the station rallied neighbours to clean the canal manually and used television messages to pressure town council to be responsible for its maintenance. As well, we just celebrated environmental week. Citizens and schools are becoming more aware of environmental issues due to publicity campaigns and school programs.

Our Creator has entrusted us to be wise and responsible stewards. The rainbow after the rainstorm is a symbol of hope, arching over a waiting world to proclaim that God's love is mighty to triumph over every condition.

Scarboro missionaries have been accompanying the people of Guyana since 1953.



A case study for action in jubilee Year III


While the CANADIAN ECUMENICAL JUBILEE INITIATIVE (CEJI) does not focus on Guyana, the country illustrates the importance of some Year III actions.For more information, see page 22 o f the Actions section of this issue.

"An emerging scandal"

In May, the jubilee 2000 Coalition described the international debt relief program as faltering; that it is:

    Not fast enough - Only five countries have begun to receive relief under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative agreed by the G-8 in Cologne, Germany, in June 1999.
    Not deep enough - Even these countries receive debt cuts by just 40% on average.
    Not broad enough - Key indebted countries are still excluded.
    Not fair or transparent - A new process is needed.

Guyana stands out as an illustrating case. Guyana was expected to be one of the first to receive debt relief through the enhanced HIPC Initiative, having already gone through the earlier HIPC process and receiving some debt relief then. In the summer of 1999 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) supported the government in awarding a pay rise to striking public sector workers as recommended by independent arbitrators. This led to the government exceeding its budgetary targets and the IMF therefore delaying new debt relief due to 'overspending.'

On June 16, 2000, during an interview with the Jubilee 2000 Coalition, President Jagdeo of Guyana stated, "We have fulfilled all the IMF and World Bank conditions ... The fiscal deficit in 1999 at 3% was below the 4% recommended by the IMF. Yet... Guyana is still defined as off-track under the current enhanced HIPC Initiative. We do not understand why." Jubilee 2000 pointed out that Guyana's exclusion from further debt relief reveals the deep contradictions in HIPC conditions: rich countries call for poverty reduction while penalizing countries like Guyana for reducing poverty among public sector workers.

The Guyanese High Commissioner for the UK has commented: "...the debt burden is severe and constrains the ability of the government to act on extremely urgent domestic priorities such as education, health, water, physical infrastructure..." Under the earlier HIPC, Guyana's annual debt payments were cut from $136 million in 1998 to $70 million in 1999. By 2000, debt payments had risen to $88 million and represents 45% of Guyana's budget revenue. (Jubilee 2000 Coalition)

The debt campaign continues into Year III of the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative as a way of restoring right relations with people in the global South.

Climate change: A debt owed by the rich

Within the theme of restoring right relations with the Earth, the CEJI campaign focuses on human-induced climate change (see page 21). Although everyone needs the Earth's atmosphere, less than 20% of the world's population who live in the wealthier countries have been responsible for nearly 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, released mainly through the burning of fossil fuels.

Greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere and trap heat from the sun, leading to an increase in global temperature. Global warming threatens life and well-being through sea level rise, changes in food supply, and more frequent natural disasters.

The worst effects of a problem created primarily by wealthier industrialized countries will be suffered primarily by the poor in developing countries and by future generations. Impoverished nations, especially those already burdened by debt, will have more difficulty dealing with the effects. This unequal use of the global atmosphere is a debt owed by the rich countries to the poorer and less industrialized countries. Jubilee campaign actions will focus on reducing greenhouse gases.

According to Guyana's Environmental Protection Agency, the Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change (CPACC) assessment results reveal likely significant impacts of sea level rise on agriculture, human settlements, fresh water supplies and coastal ecosystems. Not good news to a country where debt constrains the ability to act.

"Take your poison back to Canada"

Demonstrators at the Guyanese parliament in August 1995 used this slogan after 3.2 billion liters of cyanide-laced effluent spilled into the Omai and Essequibo rivers. Majority Canadian-owned Omai Gold Mines Ltd. (Montreal-based Cambior Inc., 65%) was operating a large gold mine deep in the Guyanese interior. While some action was taken after the spill, 23,000 residents of the Essequibo region, many Amerindian, are still seeking compensation for suffering and environmental damage alleged to be caused by the spill and the mine's continuing operations.

According to Probe International, Cambior invested in the Guyanese mine with the help of foreign investment insurance from the Canadian government's Export Development Corporation (EDC), protecting Cambior from a host of risks.

Within the theme of right relations with Indigenous people, CEJI explores other activities of the EDC and Canadian corporations and calls for effective government regulation to protect Indigenous peoples and the environment.

The above is presented by Karen Van Loon. Special thanks to the Canadian Ecumenical jubilee Initiative for climate change and other information.

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