The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Guyana:
1. Human Trafficking
Guyana is the source and destination for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor – children being particularly vulnerable. Women and girls from Guyana, Venezuela, Suriname, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic are forced into prostitution in Guyana’s interior mining communities and urban areas. Forced labor is also reported in mining, agriculture, forestry, domestic service, and shops. The government released its anti-trafficking action plan in June 2014 but made uneven efforts to implement it; law enforcement was weak, and Guyanese courts dismissed the majority of ongoing trafficking prosecutions; the government referred some victims to care services, which were provided by NGOs with little or no government support.
In 2018, the government reported 30 new investigations, prosecuted 11 suspected traffickers and convicted 1 trafficker for sex trafficking, compared to 4 investigations, 17 prosecutions and two convictions in 2017. The government reported investigating 11 cases of child trafficking (10 sex trafficking and one labor trafficking). The government identified 156 victims in 2018 (106 for sex trafficking and 50 for labor trafficking), compared with 131 identified victims in 2017. The government referred 93 victims to shelter and psychological services, compared with 115 in 2017.
2. Violence against Children
The persistence of domestic and community violence, often involving children as perpetrators as well as victims in Guyana is a major concern. There is an increase in domestic violence and little legal redress and services for the victims of abuse and violence especially children.The consensus is that the root causes of this violence are not being addressed and instead interventions focus on punitive responses to the symptoms rather than prevention, rehabilitation and social integration.
There have been about 4,000 reported cases of violence against children every year, a figure which chairman of ChildLink, Kosi John, said. Children have been suffering from long-lasting trauma because their relatives and families fail to realise that there is more to abuse than just addressing the issue. In Guyana, 600 of the 4000 cases of abuse are sexual abuse while 50 per cent of the cases are neglected. Sexual abuse of the girl child remains high, with 801 cases being reported in 2018 compared to 392 in 2017.
The level of poverty and associated levels of malnourishment will have dire consequences on the future health of the population and the potential for future economic growth in Guyana unless immediate steps are taken to address these issues. More than 36 percent of Guyanese or almost 4 in 10 people are living in poverty i.e. surviving on an income of U$1.75 per day or G$10,494 per month, according to the Guyana Poverty Reduction Strategy: (2011 – 2015). Almost half (47.5 percent) of all children under the age of 16 live in families struck by poverty. This is both an economic and social tragedy. More than a third of young adults (16-25 years old) live in poverty. A quarter of the adult population (41 years and older) also lives in poverty.
The main health problems that Guyana faces are NCDs, mental disorders (suicide), HIV infection and tuberculosis, vector-borne diseases, and not enough trained health workers. HIV/AIDS prevalence is estimated at 2.5 per cent, one of the highest rates in the Caribbean. AIDS is the leading cause of death among adults aged 24-44.
The various systems within the health sector are fragmented and lack intercommunication. Political, technical, and financial backing is needed to develop infrastructure, recruit skilled human resources, and support technological sustainability. In 2015, only 57.8% of information from health facilities reached national authorities; thus, underreporting of mortality and morbidity is high.
The agricultural sector, in recent years, has seen a steady decline in contribution to GDP; the sector’s contribution was 19.4 percent in 2015, and by 2018 it declined to 16.1 percent of GDP.
Agricultural systems in Guyana are challenged by climate change and this poses a risk to sustainability. Agriculture is predominantly done along the low lying coast which is vulnerable to flooding, adding to the cost of production and reducing competitiveness.