Gold mining activities big threat for local communities in the Colombian Amazon

Gold mining activities big threat for local communities in the Colombian Amazon

Colombia - 07 March, 2013

Gold mining activities are a real threat for the local communities in the Colombian Amazon according to the report “Mining from a local perspective” compiled by Tropenbos International Colombia. This document gathers more than 40 testimonies of local communities regarding the impact of mining activities in their territories.

Mining is a growing phenomenon in Colombia. For instance, more than 14.000 requests for the exploitation of coltan, gold, uranium and other minerals are registered only in the Amazon tropical forest. Even if mining is not a novelty, the social and environmental effects of such activities at a local level are generally unregistered and consequently not taken into account in decision-making processes. What is really happening in local communities? What are the negative impacts of the extraction activities? Are there any positive impacts at all?

The study “Mining from a local perspective” brings first hand evidence to elucidate some of the questions above. It traces historical aspects, describes forms of exploitation and identifies the environmental, social, economic and cultural implications of the participation of indigenous people in those activities. The outcomes of this research were presented at the multi-stakeholder mining roundtable (Permanent Dialogue Table) which has supported the formulation of a new protection measure of the Ministry of Environment for the amazon rainforest and intends to provide information for the best implementation options for mining activities in Colombia.

Unregulated gold exploitation, as seen in the Mid River Caquetá, leaves an incurable scar in the landscape, including water poisoning and deforestation; at the same time, it triggers social conflict and violence, especially since it increases the presence of illegal armed groups in the area. "It all starts with the high hopes of promises, then comes ambition, and at the end it all seems a curse", says an elder woman of the Yucuna ethnic group.

At the policy level, advances have been made to regulate mining: mining has been forbidden in protected areas such as National Natural Parks and in large areas of National interest. It can also be stated that there is more civil awareness of the consequences of mining on natural resources due to the increasing public debate about this issue. Under the motto of prevention, the last regulation states that no exploitation permits will be approved in the following 10 years, therefore protecting around 17 million hectares of tropical forest.

Today the Colombian authorities have the duty to regulate adequately the mineral exploitation in the Amazon region. The concrete cases gathered by Tropenbos International Colombia will become an important reference for the analysis of the mining phenomenon from a local perspective and therefore a valuable input for the upcoming regulation challenges. This kind of local documentation is a sound strategy (and should be promoted in other regions) to generate awareness among the different actors of the elements to be considered in such legislation and to identify the particular threats of each territory.