MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining impacts on indigenous peoples and health in Colombia

Published by MAC on 2016-02-19
Source: Telesurtv

How is Mining Causing Malaria in Colombia?

Areas of high mining activity have shown drastically higher cases of malaria, increasing by over 31 percent in recent years


18 February 2016

Cases of malaria in Colombia have been skyrocketing, but only in areas where mining activities have increased, according to a new study released by local researchers.

“Mining, legally and illegally, alters ecosystems,” Socrates Herrera, director of the Caucaseco Research Center, one of the main bodies behind the study, told Colombia's El Espectador Wednesday.

Herrera added that illegal mining poses a higher risk since it does not adhere to regulations, leaving pools of liquid that become mosquito breeding grounds, one of the main dangers in spreading the mosquito-borne disease. Illegal mining is a common practice in Colombia, particularly in the last decade, when the price of gold shot up from around US$400 an ounce to nearly US$1200.

According to researchers, malaria across the country has actually decreased over the years, going from 117,000 documented cases in 2010 to 60,000 cases in 2013, the last year statistics were available.

However, this is not the case in areas with high mining activities. Here, cases have increased by almost over 31 percent.

The study found that in areas like El Bagre, a municipality in the northern state of Antioquia surrounded by mining activity, 188 cases of malaria were found for every 1000 inhabitants. This is drastically above the national average of 4.95 malaria cases per 1000 people. Similar numbers were reported for other municipalities close to mining areas.

The findings of the study echo similar concerns by Colombia's health minister, Dario Gonzalez, who said in November that illegal mining was a major cause for health concerns.

“The proliferation of illegal mining in areas that are difficult to access ... does not allow the health ministry to carry out proper control to prevent (the disease),” said Gonzalez, referring to spraying for mosquitoes and other government initiatives.

Indigenous communities are some of the worst affected, according to the health minister.

According to Herrera, another concern for health specialists is the fluidity of mining work and its potential outcomes. Miners often come from other areas of the country, or even countries like French Guyana, Brazil and Peru, in order to make money in the mines but stay for short periods of time.

This movement of people both introduces foreign parasites that may be resistant to local medications, and threatens to spread the malaria disease to outside environments, said Herrera.

Colombian Mining Conflict Affects over 100,000 Indigenous

Violent attacks continue to affect Sierra Nevada communities opposed to hundreds of mining projects


16 February 2016

Kankuamo Indigenous communities in Colombia's northern town of Valledupar were the victim of what appear to be twin arson attacks on separate religious temples Monday morning, just two days after the groups canceled consultations with the government in opposition to 400 mining projects in the region.

Valledupar is located in the isolated Sierra de Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site that is home to around 100,000 Indigenous people currently affected by government mining policies.

In exclusive comments made to teleSUR, Jaime Arias, a Kankuamo leader and a head of the Sierra Nevada’s Indigenous council, strongly condemned Monday’s acts and said that he has demanded authorities open up an official investigation into the fires.

“We were very surprised these acts occurred at a moment when we’re confronting the government and the companies that have many interests in the Sierra Nevada … against the cultural unity of the communities,” he added.

A leader of the Territorial Committee of Indigenous Communities of the Sierra Nevada, Arias added that Indigenous groups have launched a separate investigation into the fires, but no progress has yet been made.

According to Arias, there is a history of Indigenous leaders being subjected to threats and attacks from federal and local state officials.

The Kankuamo leader recalled an incident on Dec. 19, 2015, when Arhuaco leader and former Indigenous councilor Rogelio Mejia was shot along with his 14-year-old son.

Both sustained injuries yet no arrests were made. The culprits remain at large.

The Kankuamo leader rounded up by suggesting that the Colombian state sees the Sierra Nevada’s Indigenous communities as “obstacles” to the region’s development projects.

“The peoples of the Sierra Nevada are peaceful, our mission is to take care of and preserve the Heart of the World,” concluded the Indigenous leader, who emphasized the need for South American and international solidarity in combating the threats they face.

Meanwhile, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) also expressed surprise the fires occurred two days after the Sierra Nevada’s Indigenous people suspended mining and energy project consultations.

The four Indigenous groups that inhabit the region: the Arhuaco, Kogi, Wiwa and Kankuamo all agreed to cancel consultations with the government after a joint meeting held over Feb. 11-14. The groups are now demanding an official meeting with Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorri Valencia to discuss the government’s mining policies in the region.

The Indigenous groups argue that sacred land is being violated and the region’s water reserves and biodiversity are under threat, as mining companies such as Ruta del Sol, Yuma S.A. and Puerto Brisa continue to develop controversial projects in the region.

A severe drought has affected local Sierra Nevada communities in recent months, with Indigenous groups accusing the mining companies of wasting the area’s water resources.

Despite the mounting evidence, local Valledupar state official Sandra Cujia Mora issued a statement following the attacks, suggesting they were likely the result of internal conflict between Indigenous leaders fighting for a position on the Sierra Nevada’s Indigenous council

However, Valledupar Mayor Augusto Ramirez Uhia has strongly condemned the acts and has echoed Arias’ demands for an official investigation. The case continues.

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