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News > Latin America

Illegal Gold Mining in Peru Is Devastating the Amazon

  • File photo: Inhabitants of the Manaui basin in

    File photo: Inhabitants of the Manaui basin in "La Pampa," visiting one of the most affected areas by illegal gold mining. March 21, 2012 | Photo: EFE

Published 17 July 2018

Since January 2018, illegal miners have deforested 2,300 soccer fields in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

Between January and June 2018, illegal gold mining deforested about 4262.5 acres (1,725 hectares) of the Tambopata National Reserve's buffer zone in Madre de Dios, Peru.


Campesino Communities in Peru in Their Struggle Against Mining

The buffer zone is intended to protect one of the most biodiverse reserves in the world, but illegal mining is has polluted lakes with mercury and other chemicals, killing vegetation, animals and risking the natural balance of the region.

A report called “Gold Mining Continues Devastating the South Peruvian Amazon” registered a loss of 4262.5 acres, equal to 2,300 soccer fields, especially in the regions known as La Pampa and the Malinowski Highlands.

Since 2013, gold mining has deforested up to 21,745 acres (8,800 hectares). That's 11,600 soccer fields.

The report was a joint effort by the Asociation for the Conservation of the Amazonian Basin (ACCA) and the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA), who analyzed satellite images to monitor the Madre de Dios forest and find out about the consequences of illegal mining in the region.

“Illegal mining is moving forward in large sections close to the Tambopata reserve. This shows the sporadic interventions by authorities in the region have not been effective. To solve this crisis we need a strategic, large-scale effort and plenty of resources,” Matt Finner, a researcher at ACA who is leading the project, told the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio.

Finner said deforestation has mainly affected La Pampa and the Malinowski highlands. According to the associations' reports, since 2013.


Peru's Indigenous Masenawa Use App To Stop Illegal Miners

Daniel Castillo, who is responsible for the technical assistance department of the National Program of Forest Conservation of the Environment Ministry (Minam), said the deforestation rate registered by the report is one of the most accelerated in the last two or three years.

The National Service of Natural Areas Protected by the State (Sernanp) coordinates actions with the National Police, the Environmental Prosecutors and the Navy, in an effort to protect the reserve, but they have proven to be insufficient. In turn, the buffer zone is protected by the Madre de Dios Regional Government, which has also not implemented effective measures to prevent illegal mining and its environmental consequences.

“The reasons explaining this advance are different. The control actions are not kept in time. The responsible authorities control the zone but, even though they're effective, they're not constant. So, as the presence in the zone is not constant, activities return,” said Castillo.

Pablo Sanchez, Peru's attorney general, said the Public Ministry is working on a project that relies on satellite technology to prosecute environmental crimes such as illegal mining. He recognized there are few sentences ruled in these cases due to lack of evidence, but technology may change this.

And tired of incompetent authorities, indigenous communities of Madre de Dios have implemented their own measures to fight illegal mining. Members of Peru's Masenawa communities are using an app called ForestLink to document and alert authorities of the presence of an illegal gold mining camp and by extension eliminated the disturbance of the biodiverse Amazon location.

Local Indigenous communities in Madre de Dios found mining equipment in their territory and filed the corresponding complaints only to receive death threats by miners. Photo | Fenamad

“Communities are the natural guardians of the Amazon,” Rosa Baca, of Peruvian indigenous group Federación Nativa del Rio Madre de Dios y Afluentes (Fenamad), said in a statement. “Technologies like ForestLink are helping indigenous peoples to protect the rainforest from illegal mining, even in areas outside their titled lands.”

In June, several leaders of Masenawa's Harakbut were threatened and attacked by miners, who burned four of their boats, and had to leave their communities due to possible risks to their integrity. The harakbut had found and denounced the presence of heavy mining machinery and authorities arrested at least five people, who were later released due to lack of evidence.

According to an IC report, about 30,000 illegal miners took up residence in the region, in 2015, and had collected US$15 billion worth of gold between 2003 and 2014.

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