Guyana to increase oversight of gold mining under deal to save forests with Norway

Jeremy Hance
December 21, 2009

As a part of a deal with Norway to preserve its rainforests, Guyana will step up oversight of its gold mining industry, which has been accused of causing significant environmental damage including deforestation and mercury and cyanide pollution.

"The recent agreement with Norway, through which Guyana receives payments to avoided deforestation and degradation, now puts a significant monetary and moral cost to any unnecessary degradation of forest areas for any purpose," reads a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister of Guyana.

As apart of the plan, Guyana will be increasing the number of mine officers across the country. The government is also calling on gold mining operations to become more transparent and to minimize degradation to forests.

A 2007 report by the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) of Harvard Law School's Human Rights Program on Guyana's gold mining found that the practice—which employs thousands and is one of Guyana's major exports—causes deforestation, pollution of waterways, and threatens indigenous populations.

"Our observations confirmed that the areas around mines resemble a moonscape of barren, mounded sand and mud," Bonnie Docherty, clinical instructor at the IHRC, said in 2007. "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."

Much of Guyana's gold mining is done by small to medium operators. Some operators fear that proposed environmental regulations will force them out of business.

To protect Guyana's still largely intact rainforests, Norway has pledged $30 million in 2010 to a REDD+(Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and forest Degradation) fund with the possibility of $250 million by 2015 depending on Guyana's success.

Overlooking Guyana's tropical forest. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (December 21, 2009).

Guyana to increase oversight of gold mining under deal to save forests with Norway.