mining environmental problems water pollution

A reflection about the value of water and the forest

Drinking from the rivers and eating from the forests

Environmental disasters are happening around the world and most of us are not even aware.

Maybe some of you went hiking and splashed some clear water from a river on yourself. Maybe you found a wild fruit and tried it. Maybe you like to go fishing or you have a small orchard in your backyard. These things are the simplest and most pleasant things for me and maybe for many of you. But they are also fundamental lifestyle elements of many people around the world that maintain a close relationship with the environment, drinking and eating from their local rivers and forests. These are perhaps the most ancient ways of conservation (use and protection of resources), but how long it will be possible for people to do them?

Recent events made me reflect about how little we know and care about our resources, especially when the food and the water supplies are endangered around the world as a result of overuse and degradation of agricultural soil and pollution among other problems. Just to refresh our memories:

  • November 5th 2015 Mariana, Minas Gerais- Brazil. A mine dam burst and approximately 50 million cubic meters of iron waste flowed into the Doce River, reaching the Atlantic Ocean. As result, there were 19 deaths, 80 km of toxic mud reaching the ocean, 11 tons of dead fishes (80 species) and 1265 people without their homes [5].

  • January 5th Flint, Michigan- United States. The city is declared to be in a state of emergency two years after it switched its water source to the highly-polluted Flint River. The residents have to use bottled water and children’s health has been compromised [9].

  • January 25th Moroma district, Loreto and February 5th Imaza-Amazonas Peru. 30,000 barrels of oil spilt into the Amazon rivers, reaching the Marañon River (Amazon River tributary). More than 1900 people are affected and 30 hectares of forest have been destroyed [2].

  • March 3rd La Esperanza-Honduras. Berta Cáceres, Honduran environmental activist, is murdered in her home. She was a winner of the prestigious Environmental Godman prize, which recognizes fearless activists around world. She organized the indigenous Lenca people and successfully prevented the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, which was violating the international treaties governing indigenous people’s rights [1].

  • March 19th Malinowski river, Madre de Dios-Peru. Three bodies were found. These were victims of human trafficking [3] which is one of the social problems associated to gold illegal mining. Illegal gold mining in Madre de Dios, which works without permission, has already destroyed 6,600 hectares (approximately 25.5 square miles) of forest [10], and produced mercury pollution and death (access to online documentary avaible in English at http://www.lasrutasdeloro.com/) [7].

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Figure 1 Rescuer trying to save a donkey in Mariana mine dam disaster. (Source: noticias.bol.uolcom.br)

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Figure 2 Local people try to clean the oil in the Peruvian Amazon (Source: Alessandro Currarino / El Comercio)

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Figure 3 Illegal gold mining effects in the Peruvian Amazon (Source: http://www.actualidadambiental.pe/)

These events make me realize that no matter which country you live in, we just keep risking the most valuable resources for the illusion of development and money. The scariest of all this is that most of the people around the world just do not know about what is happening, myself included. I did not know who Berta Cáceres was or that 116 environmental activists were murdered in 2014. The majority of them were in Latin America - mainly in Brazil, Honduras and Peru [6]. Many people don’t know that much of the illegal gold goes to companies around the world, and that maybe you and I already have something made with dirty gold [8]. Many of us are not informed because is difficult to get information, and in many cases the media does not share these stories. The oil spill in the Amazon was made known only after Leonardo DiCaprio posted a petition on his NGO page. Maybe you are just learning now about the dam disaster in Brazil. We are losing water and forests around the world without even hearing about it. These local events affect everyone - we are talking about rivers, oceans, forests and people that we do not know but are trying to protect these precious resources. I know that it is difficult but we can pay more attention to the origin of the products we buy. We can avoid buying from companies that generate environmental problems and seek alternative sources of information that will inform us about environmental problems (i.e. Mongabay [4]).

Let’s place more value on our resources, let’s support the people who take care of the environment, and let’s make better decisions to continue enjoying our rivers and forests.

Thank you for reading this post and please keep yourself informed. Remember that knowledge is important because it allows us to make better choices.


[1] Alejandra Martins, “Honduras: matan a Berta Cáceres, la activista que le torció la mano al Banco Mundial y a China”. BBC Mundo, March 3, 2016. Accessed March 25, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2015/04/150423_honduras_berta_caceres_am?ocid=socialflow_facebook%3FSThisFB

[2] Alessandro Currarino, “Mas de 1.900 afectados por derrame de crudo en Amazonas”, El comercio, February 27, 2016. Accessed March 25, 2016. http://elcomercio.pe/peru/amazonas/mas-1900-afectados-derrame-crudo-amazonas-noticia-1882369?ref=nota_peru&ft=mod_leatambien&e=titulo

[3] Manuel Calloquispe Flores, “La criminalidad gana terreno en zonas de mineria ilegal”, El comercio, March 25, 2016. Accessed, March 25, 2016. http://elcomercio.pe/peru/madre-de-dios/criminalidad-gana-terreno-zonas-mineria-ilegal-noticia-1889196

[4] “Mongabay”, last modified April 16, 2016 http://news.mongabay.com/

[5] “Globominas”, last modified November 21, 2015, http://g1.globo.com/minas-gerais/noticia/2015/11/barragem-de-rejeitos-se-rompe-em-distrito-de-mariana.html

[6] “Global Witness”, last modified April 20, 2015, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/cuantos-mas/

[7] “Las rutas del oro” http://www.lasrutasdeloro.com/

[8] Oscar Castilla, “Los vuelos secretos del oro ilegal” Ojos público, December 5, 2014. Accessed, March 25,2016. http://ojo-publico.com/12/los-vuelos-secretos-del-oro-ilegal

[9] Sara Ganim and Linh Tran “How tap water became toxic in Flint, Michigan”, CNN, January 13, 2016. Accessed, March 25, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/11/health/toxic-tap-water-flint-michigan/

[10] Swenson, Jennifer J., Catherine E. Carter, Jean-Christophe Domec, and Cesar I. Delgado. “Gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon: global prices, deforestation, and mercury imports.” PloS one 6, no. 4 (2011): e18875.

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