Illegal mining in Amazon rainforest has become an 'epidemic'
Campaigners release map showing scale of pollution and damage to environment caused by small-scale miners
Dom Phillips in Rio de Janiero
Mon 10 Dec 2018 08.00 GMT
An epidemic of illegal artisanal mining across the Amazon rainforest has been revealed in an unprecedented new map, pinpointing 2,312 sites in 245 areas across six Amazon countries.
Called garimpo in Brazil, artisanal mining for gold and other minerals in Amazon forests and rivers has been a problem for decades and is usually illegal. It is also highly polluting: clearings are cut into forests, mining ponds carved into the earth, and mercury used in extraction is dumped in rivers, poisoning fish stocks and water supplies. But its spread has never been shown before.
"It has a big impact seeing it all together," said Alicia Rolla, adjunct coordinator at the Amazon Socio-environmental, Geo-referenced Information Project, or RAISG, which produced the map. "This illegal activity causes as many social as environment problems and we hope there can be coordinated actions from the countries impacted to prohibit it."
Its publication comes weeks before Brazil's far-right president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, takes office on 1 January. Last year Bolsonaro said he practised artisanal gold mining during his holidays in the 1980s and he has won support from garimpeiros (artisanal miners) with promises to help them work with "dignity and security". He also wants to legalise mining on protected indigenous reserves where it is currently banned.
The map was produced by a network of non-government, environmental groups in six Amazon countries - FAN in Bolivia, Gaia in Colombia, IBC in Peru, Ecociência in Ecuador, Provita and Wataniba in Venezuela, and Imazon and the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) in Brazil. It also includes information where available on what was being mined and when, citing sources that vary from government registers to satellite imagery.
A gold mine swallowed their village. This Amazon tribe is here to take it back
In 37 cases, the groups say illegal artisanal mining took place in protected indigenous reserves, 18 of which were in Brazil. Another 78 reserves showed garimpo taking place along their limits and borders - 64 of them in Peru - and 55 nature reserves also had illegal mining.
An accompanying "story map" in English has maps, videos and interviews, detailing cases, such as the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve in Puerto Luz in Peru, where indigenous people said they had been forced into artisanal mining because the devastation it wrought in their region left no other options to survive.
The mercury used in gold extraction is affecting indigenous and local populations who live or work near mine sites, it said. In Venezuela - which has the highest number of mining sites - and Colombia, illegal mining often happens in areas where irregular armed groups operate.
Nilo D'Avila, campaigns director at Greenpeace Brasil, said the map confirmed his own research showing garimpo is increasing in the Amazon.
"There is a garimpo epidemic in Brazil," he said. "We are talking about impact on biodiversity and forests, we are talking about the use of mercury, we are talking about stealing riches from indigenous people and from Brazil."
Carlos Young, a professor of economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and a specialist in environmental economics connected to illegal deforestation and the trade in drugs and arms, said garimpo camps can bring in alcohol and prostitution, causing negative impacts on forest communities.
"It is also a map of crime, of the drug trade, of prostitution. There are diverse nuances of this crime, of this illegality, that demands integrated governance," he said. The map also shows how prevalent garimpo is in border regions, he noted, adding that Bolsonaro's plans to neuter environmental agencies will encourage it more.
"If I want to guarantee national sovereignty I need more inspections and control and not the contrary," he said.
The map also shows how close many illegal sites are to legal mining concessions. That came as no surprise to Laura Sauls, a PhD candidate at the geography school at Clark University in Massachusetts, and one of a group of international scientists behind another report that showed how legal mining and associated infrastructure works increasingly threaten forest cover and community rights by enabling "population movements and agricultural expansion further into the forest". In some cases, she said, garimpo comes too. "I would expect there to be illegal mining in areas where there is a large mine," she said.
Since you're here...
... we have a small favour to ask. Three years ago we set out to make The Guardian sustainable by deepening our relationship with our readers. The same technologies that connected us with a global audience had also shifted advertising revenues away from news publishers. We decided to seek an approach that would allow us to keep our journalism open and accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford.
More than one million readers have now supported our independent, investigative journalism through contributions, membership or subscriptions, which has played such an important part in helping The Guardian overcome a perilous financial situation globally. We want to thank you for all of your support. But we have to maintain and build on that support for every year to come.
Sustained support from our readers enables us to continue pursuing difficult stories in challenging times of political upheaval, when factual reporting has never been more critical. The Guardian is editorially independent - our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important because it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. Readers' support means we can continue bringing The Guardian's independent journalism to the world.
As notícias aqui publicadas são pesquisadas diariamente em diferentes fontes e transcritas tal qual apresentadas em seu canal de origem. O Instituto Socioambiental não se responsabiliza pelas opiniões ou erros publicados nestes textos. Caso você encontre alguma inconsistência nas notícias, por favor, entre em contato diretamente com a fonte.