The Nariva Swamp is the most diverse wetland ecosystem in Trinidad and Tobago. It is located at the south western region of our country and many individuals are unaware of this swamp’s importance and uniqueness. Rural areas such as Biche and Plum Mitan exist closely to the Nariva Swamp. Having been declared an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA), many are also unaware of how livelihoods have been affected. While there is a great initiative seeking out the welfare of those who live near the ESA, there are many challenges that need to be dealt with in order for the Nariva Swamp to become a proper eco tourism destination.
During the July/August vacation I had the opportunity of a lifetime to work under the Nariva Swamp Restoration Project as a student intern at the Environmental Management Authority. I was placed to work with the coordinator of the Communication Education and Public Awareness Unit. As such I was able to directly interact with Community Based Organisations and get a firsthand experience of their involvement in the project. I can safely say that their involvement is key to the success of this initiative, however, like with any other project, there are immense challenges.
When we speak about livelihoods, we speak about support and sustenance. In the communities surrounding the Nariva Swamp, there is a high rate of adult illiteracy, lack of opportunities and a life that is plagued by social ills. Having read through all the extensive documents surrounding the Nariva Swamp, I noticed they came very close to analysing the social needs and problems of nearby communities; however theory has no practical applicability. There have been unforeseen challenges that take no rocket scientist to figure out.
One of the major challenges is the process of communication. It is very difficult to communicate with someone who comes from a complete different sphere of life. As you would learn in any introductory communication course, there must be three commonalities for communication to occur. These are language, environment and culture. I have met so many inspirational and independent individuals who live around the Nariva Swamp. However, I am not sure how many of them realise that they are living on a gold mine.
Contracts are awarded to Community Based Organisations to assist in the restoration of the Nariva Swamp. The restoration involves planting native species that have already existed in the area. While anyone who has a firm grasp on what it takes to understand years of research, planning and project documents it would be easy to appreciate the wonder of the Nariva Swamp Project. However, if it’s something that you cannot understand, it would be very difficult to appreciate.
The Nariva Swamp Project is definitely a step in the right direction, while it has been criticised extensively, one must understand that the research comes nowhere close to what reality really is. Socially, politically or economically, the ramifications of the Nariva Swamp Project are extensive, however having had the opportunity to work alongside the project, my main concern is that of the people who live there.
Grand Riviere is very a good example of an eco tourism destination generating millions of dollars every year that benefits not only the nation but the people who live there. Nariva Swamp has every potential to be the same. The West Indian Manatee is a very rare sight, and I envied a little boy who told me that he had seen one before. The numerous macaws, the Howler monkeys and not to mention our rich folklore could bring tourists flocking to this destination. While there are companies and organisations that benefit from this, visiting the community made me realise that not everyone is involved.
I asked myself the question why can’t this area be like Grand Riviere? The area does need a lot of work. Road infrastructure is not the best and pipe borne water supply is a grave issue. I remembered peering into a well that was filled with murky water and mossy stains around its concrete rim. This was the villagers’ source of water which has to be boiled in order to come close to safe drinking. Problems...You have no idea!
While I do understand that people would continue to criticise the efforts for environmental prosperity in Trinidad and Tobago, everyone always expects immediate results. The majority of the times, the people who expect immediate results are those who have not lifted a finger to help the situation. Livelihoods are important in any undertaking. People’s lives are important and education on how they can benefit is imperative to their sustenance.