Guyana is more than just what we see on maps. Most of Guyana’s territory sits on top of a 1.7-billion-year-old geological formation: the Guiana Shield, which contains large freshwater ecosystems. This interconnected freshwater system is defined by vast amounts of surface and ground water ecosystems that for centuries shaped the landscape, giving Guyana its identity.
But the availability of our freshwater in rivers is becoming increasingly unpredictable due to its vulnerability to the impacts of human development activity and environmental change. The changes in our freshwater sources reveal the true impact of the current global climate crisis in Guyana. Already extreme weather events have caused an upsurge in the severity of flooding and at the other extreme, longer dry spells.
It is urgent that we take action to protect our precious freshwater resources. As Guyana looks to its future in a changing climate, we need to get together in this fight to for our natural environment and our own livelihoods.
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From the mighty Essequibo which flows from the Acarai Mountains deep in the South, to the Waini in the Northern regions, rivers have long been contributing to economic growth, food security, and human well-being. They maintain the health of various wetlands, forests, and other terrestrial habitats, which is home to thousands of freshwater species of plants and animals.
Some of the most important freshwater systems in Guyana is found in the southern regions. Some of Guyana’s most important freshwater systems are: the headwaters of the mighty Essequibo and the spectacular Rupununi wetlands.
The Rupununi is one of our most diverse landscape with vast open savannahs that acts as seasonal wetlands and flood plains. These wetlands hold one of the largest concentrations of freshwater fish, other aquatic animals, and plants, some which are endemic to the area.
This seasonal flow of water into the Rupununi is also critical for the thousands of Guyanese who live there. The water brings with it multiple benefits: recharging farmlands and wells after the long dry spells, creating more waterways to allow fishes to reproduce thus increasing the availability of essential fishes for food, which can then improve the livelihoods and income of people.
Freshwater systems are also under growing pressures especially in the Rupununi savannahs. Due to the openness of the land Savannahs are seen as prime locations for new largescale agricultural farms that have an extreme demand on the freshwater supply in the area and have the potential to disrupt the flow and natural functions of rivers and wetlands.
Planned large agricultural plantations and processing industries, such as growing of rice crops in the Intermediate and Rupununi Savannahs and especially on arable lands on the upper reaches of the riverbank, will increase soil erosion and sedimentation in rivers.
Dangerous herbicides and pesticides used by farmers end up in the runoff and flow into the river system spreading through entire ecosystems, negatively impacting wildlife, as the water now becomes polluted with these toxins. The polluted water is also a threat to health of the 20,000 people living and depending on the river for water. As a result, local communities will have the burden of carry the cost for treatment of their water supply for consumption.
Planned and existing roadways and bridges give access to remote communities and resources. However, inadequately planned, and managed development projects, that have not taken all factors relating to the environment into account, have a negative impact on the environment. Infrastructure developments affect the flow and functioning of rivers and their related flood plains and wetlands. These structures can block the migration routes for fish and other animal species, cause more flooding and increase water pollution.
The availability, quality and flow of freshwater is becoming increasingly unpredictable as it is threatened by climate change and developmental activities.
We must act now for our rivers! Support our call for government and business leaders to begin the process of taking a ‘Building with Nature’ approach to development around sensitive freshwater areas.