Coming to Guyana
Citizens of Canada, the UK or the USA who plan to pay a visit to Guyana soon can do themselves a favour by reading the travel advisories posted by the Georgetown diplomatic missions of their countries of origin.
They can find a lot of helpful advice about their destination.
Public safety, of course, is the biggest concern. All three missions start from the premise that “crime levels in Guyana are high,” citing the January and February massacres at Lusignan and Bartica as defining events. Admitting, though, that most visits are trouble-free, the UK advises its citizens that “further attacks could take place anywhere in the country.”
The USA claims that the murder rate in Guyana is “three times higher” than the murder rate in the United States. Still, the incidence of armed robberies continues to rise, especially in major business and shopping districts, and assaults, pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, break-ins, armed robberies, car thefts, and carjacking are common occurrences, particularly in Georgetown. Mariners have also been advised to be vigilant and to take appropriate precautions against armed attacks on boats in the country’s waters.
Sadly, the perception has been that the response of local law-enforcement authorities to the increase in violent crime has been “largely ineffectual” and that, although the police are cooperative, they lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.
Road safety is another nightmare. The USA claims that the rate of traffic accident fatalities in Guyana is 70 per cent higher than in the United States. There is general agreement that road travel and traffic are hazardous because of very poor road surfaces; farm animals sleeping or wandering on the roads; pedestrians walking on the road; and poor driving habits, including speeding, reckless driving, tailgating, cell phone use, quick stops without signalling, failure to dim headlights, and weaving in and out of traffic.
Mini-buses have been blamed for the majority of fatal vehicular accidents in recent years and travellers are warned to avoid using them.
As with other aspects of public safety, the Guyana Police Force is responsible for road safety but, the missions say, the traffic department is ill-trained and ill-equipped.
Public health is the other major concern. Referring to the well-known facts that the inadequate garbage removal system has resulted in illegal residential and commercial dumping on the roadside and into the drainage system, and that decaying animal carcasses have been occasionally discovered in the intake canals for the Georgetown water supply, the conclusion was drawn that the “water supply system throughout the country should be considered contaminated.”
Epidemic diseases such as typhoid, malaria and dengue fever are common and data from the World Health Organization were cited to show that 1.6 per cent of the general population is infected with HIV − among the highest prevalence rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. The UK puts the prevalence rate at around 2.4 per cent of the adult population, in comparison to a rate of around 0.2 per cent among adults in the UK.Medical facilities were deemed to be “severely limited” and travellers were strongly advised to ensure that their insurance could cover the costs of medical evacuation. Medical care is available for minor medical conditions. Emergency care and hospitalisation for major medical illnesses or surgery, however, are limited, owing to a lack of appropriately trained specialists, “below standard in-hospital care” and poor sanitation.
The ambulance service is limited to transportation without any medical care and is frequently not available for emergencies.
For persons holidaying out of town, most major eco-tourist resorts and hotels were deemed not to possess written emergency plans. Many resorts do not have adequately stocked first-aid supplies and many others have safety deficiencies, including a lack of easily identifiable lifeguards or no lifeguards at all.
The picture painted by these perceptions is not a pretty one. Nor is it a misrepresentation of reality. With the Caribbean Festival of the Arts just a few days away, the Ministers of Home Affairs and of Health, respectively, should consider what they need to do to make the country safer and healthier and to convince friendly foreign countries and their citizens who wish to visit Guyana that they have done so