Published: Saturday 15 June 1996

The country seems to have become wiser in environmental matters after a dam rupture in thd Omai gold mine last Augusti resulted in the spillage of three million cu m of cyanW-contaminated water into the Essequibo, the country's biggest river. The environmentalists are now concerned about the impact of the fast growing, logging industry. Many foreign and local companies have been queueing up to tap the vast forest reserves. Guyana has 83,000 sq miles under forest cover. Commercial logging is seen as a significant economy-booster.

Though vast areas of the forest are still untouched, environmentalists doubt whether the commercial activity would sustain them. Government officials do not dismiss the threat to the environment but they say that the forests are being well managed. According to Clayton Hall, the commissioner of forests, "There is a potential for degradation but we are ensuring that this does not happen."

The lack of adequate legislation for controlling the type and extent of logging is also one of their concerns. While new laws are being drafted for better monitoring of logging, the forestry commission is increasing training and deploying more forest guards. As a member of the international Tropical Timber Organisation, Guyana is committed to the target of supplying timber from sustainable areas by 2000 AD.

But Guyana does not have the resources for monitoring the extensive forests. Says Joseph 0' Lall, head of the Guyana Natural Resources Agency, "We cannot allow the forest to be raped, and it is in our interest... that we have sustainable development... but if we do not get some money, how can we monitor?" The agency is planning to plant fast-growing species, so they can be cut to satisfy demand for firewood. The best solution seems to lie with natives. Says Malcolm Rodrigues, director of the environmental unit of the University of Guyana, "Everyone concerned about sustainable exploitation of the forests in Guyana should seek the advice of the Amerindians."

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