By Samuel Sukhnandan
Women miners across Guyana are facing various livelihood and economic challenges as a result of the restrictions imposed due to the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19).
This is according to the President of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) Urica Primus who told News Talk Radio 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online on Wednesday that this situation is not limited to just a handful of women miners, but a majority of its 482 members across all regions.
Primus said some of these miners had initially made a decision to close their operations to safeguard themselves and their families. However, they have since returned to work out of the need to earn and provide for their families.
“Most miners simply cannot afford to close their operations.While the payment of utilities has been deferred, they are not erased. The payment of rent, school fees, food and health expenses are real costs that fuels the artisanal and small-scale industry drivers,” she asserted.
The GWMO president said this is especially so, since miners are land owners who have a responsibility to the state and miners who are indebted to mine equipment suppliers.
Mining is a singular means of survival for thousands of families from mining communities and across Guyana. The GWMO said had the industry closed, the result would be devastating to already economically impoverished communities and it was guaranteed to leave thousands of breadwinners without any immediate alternative means to provide for their families.
Primus also pointed to another challenge facing miners. She said while her organization appreciates the need for children to remain out of school in an effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus, this has resulted in women miners relocating their families to the closest communities to their worksite.
Primus explained, “This is in an effort to teach their children during the evenings and mornings, while maintaining supervision of their operations. Due to increased cost of internet access and data to maintain their children’s participation in structured programs, women in mining, have been struggling to afford their children’s education.”
The GWMO, according to her, had circulated a document which contains established guidelines to foster responsible mining during the pandemic among women miners. The Public Health Ministry has also assisted with it’s public education awareness campaign, by sharing videos and various other guidelines.
During the early stages of the pandemic, the GWMO had responded to calls for assistance from communities and mobilized food and hygiene hampers across regions one, four and seven; through the support of miners and mining equipment providers, as well as, an international foundation. Each hamper included masks.
In addition, the GWMO provided masks for its members in region nine, both Lethem and Marudi. The GWMO president told News Talk Radio 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online that her organisation continues to provide food and hygiene hampers to regions one, three, four, seven, eight and nine.
Since the pandemic became widespread in Guyana, flights to border communities have been put on hold, causing some disruption in the supply chain for basic goods and services in these areas. This, along with expected increase in prices for goods and transportation may begin to disrupt small scale mining related activities in some communities.On April 3, 2020, the Government imposed a national curfew and restricted business activities outside of a list of essential services, which included mining activities. But certain mining districts were forced to close in Regions One and Seven due to the increased number of cases of coronavirus recorded.