Indigenous tribes in Suriname ask gov't to protect their lands

Date of publication: 
11 March 2015

The Trio and Wayana tribes are asking Suriname’s National Assembly to take steps to protect some 72,000 sq. kilometers (28,000 sq. miles) of land in the south of the country from mining and logging activities that are destroying their habitat.

“For the past 10 to 15 years there has been an expansion of the gold mining industry throughout Suriname and indigenous communities understand that it is important for them to conserve their lands,” the World Wildlife Fund’s country manager for Suriname, Laurens Gomes, told Efe in a phone interview on Wednesday.

WWF and Conservation International have helped the tribes draft an appeal to the government because their habitat and livelihoods have been affected by mining activities that have polluted rivers and forests.

“The use of chemicals such as mercury to extract gold has polluted the rivers and affected the quality of life of the fish” eaten by the indigenous peoples, Gomes said.

The south of Suriname is the least disturbed area of the Amazon biome and is part of the largest near-pristine rainforest, according to the WWF.

It is also part of the Guiana Shield, one of the world’s oldest geological areas, occupying the northeastern part of South America, including areas in Venezuela, Guyana, Brazil, Suriname, French Guiana and Colombia.

Another challenge the indigenous population faces is that Suriname’s government does not recognize their rights to the land they inhabit.

Gomes said this lack of official title threatens the survival of communities because it means the land can be transferred to foreign investors.

According to the WWF, the region the tribes seek to preserve “generates over 60 percent of the water consumed annually in Suriname.”

The region also includes about half of the nation’s forests, which absorb more than 8 million tons of atmospheric carbon-dioxide per year.

“We need the resources of the planet to live and the forest provides them,” the village captain in Trio of Alalapadu, Shedde, said in a statement addressing local authorities.

“If we think and care about future generations, now is the time to act and work together to preserve nature,” Shedde said, according to a statement released by the WWF.

The indigenous conservation corridor proposed by the tribes would connect to one of the largest networks of protected areas in the tropical forest, including the Parc Amazonien in French Guyana and Brazil’s Tumucumaque.

So far, the tribes’ declaration has received support from several Surinamese government ministries, but according to Gomes, the administration as a whole has not taken a stand on the proposal, which was sent to the National Assembly last week.

Suriname is said to be the “greenest” country in the world and has one of the lowest per capita carbon footprints. EFE