Infrastructure development is one of the main characteristics of our modern society. Roads and bridges cut through untouched rainforest, cross over rivers and creeks, to connect the coast to the hinterland, and give access to remote communities and resources. Human population growth goes in tandem with infrastructural development. However, poorly planned and managed development projects that have not taken the environment into account can have a negative impact on the biodiversity and the people who depend on it.
Communities in the Rupununi experience an annual flooding that is increasing in its intensity. This has resulted in massive economic loss and disruptions to their way of life.
By building with nature in mind, we can live in harmony with nature and at the same time reap its benefits such as helping reduce the impacts of climate change, reduce biodiversity loss, and secure the livelihoods of people. Building with nature involves the protection and management of our freshwater ecosystems to maintain the environment and ensure a sustainable flow of economic and social benefits. It also allows us to develop innovative nature-based solutions to solve our growing challenges of flooding and freshwater quality.
The main objectives of taking a building with nature approach in the Rupununi region are as follows:
There are a number of approaches we can take when considering a building with nature approach. These approaches all require us to adopt and embrace new ideas at the individual, business and policy levels.
Some of these approaches include, floodplain reconnection, designing of flood bypass, managing catchment soils and vegetation near rivers, and the integration of wetlands into agricultural landscape. These measures will result in the reduction of river flood risk, improvements in the overall quality of water, and better management of drought risk.
We must begin by assessing all possible risks to water security and then develop strategies to mitigate those risks.
This approach will provide a basic framework that takes into account the competing demands that land-use activities such as large-scale agricultural practices and large infrastructure development projects, have on the freshwater supply in the Rupununi. Such an approach will require water-intensive industries to operate under more responsible guidelines that help create safety zones in areas that are more susceptible.
Restricted Zones – The soils in runoff areas, wetlands and places near riverine vegetation which filter sediment and nutrients are vulnerable to impacts of pesticides used to manage agricultural pests. These areas should be designated as restricted zones for industrial activities
Mechanisms are needed to bring together government, private sector, and communities/civil society for effective management of freshwater resources to reduce the competition between people and nature for water resources during low flows and ensure enough water is available for regeneration of ecosystems. Proper water management requires multi-stakeholder involvement that takes full advantage of available technologies, tools and policies that work together to preserve the natural flow of water.
Specific interventions can include:
Water quality improvements through the protection of natural forested areas where water flows through.
Capitalising on traditional knowledge of waterflows from indigenous communities.
Drought risk management – Assessing the true availability of water during low flow periods, giving consideration to the impacts of climate change on rainfall patters.
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.