Guyana revamps it sea and river defence and disaster risk management legislation

Guayana coast

Guyana expects sea levels to rise by 1-3 feet by the end of the century, affecting 90% of the population who live on the coast

Following a year of consultation guided by a team of experts, draft rules addressing gaps and proposing a new comprehensive framework are currently under government review

October 29, 2019

The Guyana coastline, which forms the north-eastern part of the South American coast between the deltas of the Amazon River to the southeast and the Orinoco River to the northwest, extends some 425 km from the Waini to the Corentyne rivers. Nearly 90% of Guyana’s population live on the coastal plain, much of which sits below mean sea level (typically around 0.5–1 metre below at the low-level mark) and is thus highly vulnerable to flooding.

While the Government of Guyana has updated its sea defence and disaster risk management (DRM) policies and planning in recent years, the legislation has fallen behind. With funding from the EU, the government has been able to prioritise the development of new legal instruments and has secured the services of NIRAS to strengthen existing sea and river defence legislation, which had become outdated, and draft a new DRM bill to ensure framework legislation in this area.

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NIRAS provided an international team of leading experts, which included one of the lead authors on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming – MrFernando Aragon from Mexico – as well as a regional environmental law expert from the University of West Indies in Barbados , Ms Alana Lancaster. A leading environmental law expert from the UK, Mr Chris Hedley acted as Team Leader.

The team worked closely with the Ministry of Public Infrastructure and the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), along with other stakeholders in order to develop the new legal instruments. These tools were designed to support the overall objective of promoting climate change adaptation and resilience in Guyana, while also taking account of a sustainable integrated coastal zone management approach that protects vulnerable communities and supports gender equality.


of Guyana's citizens live below sea level

Over a one-year consultation period that included consultations in all regions of Guyana, the team of experts developed two draft bills. The first consolidated and updated two existing acts on sea and river defence and addressed challenges and gaps in existing legislation, for example by better recognising the role of mangroves as natural flood defences. The second provided a comprehensive framework for DRM, designed to provide legal authority to Guyana’s national architecture for DRM. This consists of national level systems, under the authority of CDC, and regional and local level systems.

The draft legislation has now been passed to the Ministry of Legal Affairs, which is reviewing them before further stakeholders in the government take the legislation into consideration.

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According to Guyana's Office of Climate Change, in addition to rising sea levels, temperatures are expected to increase 1°C– 4°C by the end of the 21st century. Changes in weather patterns will lead to more intense periods of rainfall and longer dry periods. Much of the country's agriculture and food production is located on the coast, so rising sea levels rise and high intensity rainfall is expected to affect food security as well as road and housing infrastructure significantly unless action is taken.

Biljana Kovacevic

Biljana Kovacevic

Coordinator, Facilities and Framework Contracts U