Factors to be carefully heeded Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
October 24, 2002

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PEOPLE living in and around mountains in Guyana are generally among those in a state of impoverishment and can be counted among the marginalised and underprivileged, despite improvements and continuing efforts to include them in the overall national development drive.

These people work hard and are deprived most of the niceties of their coastal and urban counterparts.

They are tough and resilient and as `rugged as the mountains'.

Coastlanders and urban dwellers to a large extent do not appreciate the excruciating difficulties and deprivations their fellow human beings in these parts of the world have to face.

According to the London-based Panos Institute, mountains represent one quarter of the world's landscape and are home to at least one in 10 of the global population.

They are the source of 60 to 80 per cent of the world's fresh water supply.

Nearly half of the world's biodiversity hotspots are in mountain areas, and the peoples who live there are rich in culture and specialist knowledge.

"Yet there is a vertical gradient to poverty. Some 80 percent of mountain populations live below the poverty line.

"As roads open up previously remote areas, bringing access to markets, education and health services, they also accelerate the rate of change and leave mountain resources vulnerable to exploitation.

"Living on the roof of the world has always demanded resourcefulness and resilience, but increasing environmental destruction, climate change, conflict and natural hazards are making it ever more precarious, " the Panos Institute reports.

At the Rio Summit in 1992, it was recognised that "mountain environments are essential to the survival of the global ecosystem."

Furthermore, a significant proportion of those countries ranked as 'low' in the UN Human Development Index include landlocked and/or mountainous countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, Yemen, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Eritrea, it was found.

Mountain communities often find themselves politically and culturally marginalised, excluded from the centres of politics, power and decision-making, not only because of physical distance and poor communications, but simply a lack of political will to include these communities in national affairs, Panos says.

From a cultural standpoint, historically, urban dwellers have held dismissive views of mountain peoples, seeing them as backward and conservative, it has also been noted.

So as we in Guyana seek to expand our trade routes and increase trade links with our South American counterparts in the competition for a greater share of markets on which the expansion of the economy vitally depends, it is imperative that these factors be carefully taken into account to avoid the pitfalls that may accompany the development thrust in these communities.

Much of the infrastructure that has been earmarked to facilitate increased trade and development essentially will be located in or will pass through many of those mountain communities of mainly Amerindians.

The environmental, social and cultural impact must therefore be of prime consideration.

Too often economic development breeds the very ills it was intended to eradicate.