Sir Shridath Ramphal of Guyana was Commonwealth Secretary-General 1975–90.
Guyanese writers have won the overall Best First Book award of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1991 (Pauline Melville) and in 2006 (Mark McWatt).
The Government of Guyana, at the 1989 CHOGM, offered to set aside about 360,000 hectares of pristine rainforest for research to demonstrate methods for conservation and sustainable use of forest resources and biodiversity: as a result, the Commonwealth’s flagship Iwokrama Rainforest Programme was launched the following year.
The Commonwealth Youth Programme Caribbean Centre is based in Georgetown.
The Co-operative Republic of Guyana lies in the north-east of South America, north of the equator. It is bordered by Suriname, Brazil and Venezuela and, to the north and east, extends to the North Atlantic Ocean. The country comprises ten regions.
Georgetown (capital, pop. 118,363 in 2012), Linden (27,277), New Amsterdam (17,329), Anna Regina (11,793), Corriverton (10,600), Bartica (8,500), Rosignol, Skeldon and Vreed en Hoop. Georgetown is famous for its Dutch-inspired wooden architecture, street layout and drainage canals.
Surface travel in the interior of the country is hindered by dense forest, rapids on the rivers, and the generally undeveloped character of the interior. Thus, apart from in the coastal belt and on one inland route, most journeys are by air.
There are all-weather roads along the eastern part of the coast and some all-weather roads inland, including one across the country to the border with Brazil, and about seven per cent of the total network of 7,970 km is paved. There is no passenger rail service, although mining companies have private goods lines.
There are some 1,600 km of navigable river, 1,000 km of which are in areas of some economic activity. Passenger and cargo vessels travel up the Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice rivers, and also along the coast between the rivers. Apart from the Demerara, which has a road bridge, the other major rivers have to be crossed by ferries, which can take some hours for the wider rivers. At the Corentyne river ferry services link Guyana with Suriname.
Georgetown is the main port, and the international airport is CBJ International Airport, at Timehri, 40 km from Georgetown; larger towns and many mining companies have airports or landing strips.
Guyana is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Association of Caribbean States, Caribbean Community, Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Organization of American States, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
Guyana hosts the headquarters of the Caribbean Community in Georgetown.
Guyana has three distinct geographical zones. It has a narrow coastal belt, seldom more than 25 km wide and much of it 1–1.5 metres below sea level, where sugar and rice are grown and 90 per cent of the people live. In the far interior are high savannah uplands; between these, thick, hilly tropical forest covers most of the land area. For the country as a whole forest covers 77 per cent of the land area. In the forest zone are found most of the country’s resources of bauxite, diamonds, gold, manganese and other minerals. Guyana’s massive rivers include the Demerara, Berbice, Essequibo and Corentyne; rapids, bars and other obstacles make navigation difficult. The Kaieteur Falls on the Potaro river have a 222 metres drop – five times the height of Niagara. The Amerindian name ‘Guiana’ (part of the country’s former name) means ‘Land of Many Waters’.
Guyana has a warm tropical climate with high rainfall and humidity. The rainy seasons are November–January and May–July with an average rainfall of 2,350 mm p.a. in the coastal region. Inland rainfall averages 1,520 mm p.a. North-east trade winds moderate coastal temperatures.
The most significant environmental issues are water pollution by sewage, and agricultural and industrial chemicals; and deforestation.
Guyana’s tropical forest, covering 77 per cent of the land area, is among the most ecologically valuable and best preserved in the world. The environment is an issue of great political importance in Guyana. There is concern about climate change and sea-level rise, because the low-lying littoral plain relies on a system of dams, walls and drainage canals to prevent flooding from the sea or the huge rivers. Forest resources are also important; the country has taken a lead in advancing forestry conservation and sustainable development and there was no significant loss of forest cover during 1990–2012.
Under the Iwokrama Rainforest Programme, some 371,000 hectares, much of it virgin forest, have been set aside for preservation and scientific study of its ecology and for sustainable development of the parts inhabited by Amerindian tribes or migrant mining communities. The programme was launched by the Guyana government and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
The tapir is the largest land mammal; cats include the jaguar and ocelot. Monkeys and deer are the most numerous species, and caimans are the largest freshwater animal. The giant anaconda or water boa is also found in the rivers. The wealth of plant, animal and micro-organism species includes many so far unrecorded, whose properties are unknown to science. Some 11 species of mammals and 11 species of birds are thought to be endangered (2014).
Guyana Elections 2015: Commonwealth Observer Group arrival statement by Hon Kate Wilkinson