Residents of Jawalla, Upper Mazaruni, are becoming increasingly fearful of the dangers posed by river travel, especially after a group from the community narrowly escaped a major catastrophe while traversing the Mazaruni River.
This is according to local civil society organisation, the Policy Forum Guyana (PFG), which noted that the recent incident resulted in one man being injured and several others severely traumatized.
A crew of villagers were travelling via boat in the wee hours of September 24, 2018 to visit the famous Karowreing Rock Paintings, a journey of some six hours, to celebrate the culmination of Heritage Month.
Shortly after the journey commenced, the boat approached a Brazilian “dragga”, a more powerful operation than the tradition dredge.
Without warning, the steel cable anchoring the “dragga” to trees across the river – an illegal practice – rose out of the water, PFG noted.
The rising cable scraped the face of the first man at the front of the boat and his cries alerted everyone else who managed to escape unhurt. PFG said everyone else was lying in the boat and the cable passed over them.
“Had they been seated in a normal way, the Policy Forum Guyana (PFG) was informed, they could all have been swept into the river or their heads cut off,” a release from the organisation noted.
The organisation noted that this is one of the dangers residents of Jawalla and surrounding communities experience when navigating the Mazaruni River. The organisation noted that many of the dangers arise from illegal mining practices which trigger changes to the sand banks which ultimately affect the river currents.
“Even experienced boat captains are challenged by currents and eddies constantly changing as a result of the sand-banks caused by tailings from mine-sites,” PFG said.
It noted that individual villagers are increasingly fearful of dangers posed by river travel on this stretch of the Upper Mazaruni, which remains the only physical means of communication between these communities and Kamarang where most sub-regional public services, such as police, health, education, mining and agriculture are located.
The rights group said there needs to be a more robust legal regime to protect the rivers, suggesting that more authority be vested in the indigenous village councils to manage the waterways.
“Were that the case, the rights of indigenous communities to life, health and freedom of movement will be better protected and the integrity of the Upper Mazaruni river better preserved,” the organisation said.