A new era? President Correa’s dilemma: chinese money or Ecuador’s nature.

The Horrors Of Copper and Gold Mining in the Head Waters of the Amazon.

There is an area in the Upper Amazon, in South Eastern Ecuador which is under threat from the first of what may be a succession of open pit copper mines. Mirador One has been licensed and more mines are planned for the future.

This type of mining, “open pit” mining ALWAYS causes pollution because as soon as sulphide rocks are exposed to air and water, by chemical reaction, they exude sulfuric acid, which in turn releases heavy metals from the rocks, which in turn creates toxic waterways.

In this case the waterways link into the great Amazon River system.

The acidification of the water causes gill malfunction in all fish life and ultimate death. The waters also become toxic due to the presence of heavy metals and toxins used to extract copper and gold from the mined ore. This acidification is known as Acid Mine Drainage and lasts for ever. The poisons remain in river sediment. Mines started in the times of the Romans are still leaching acid after 2,000 years.

This acid moves into ground water, and in this case with a pit which will be started at 900 meters and which will be mined to a depth of 1,250 meters, putting the base of the pit below sea level, this is a certainty. The mine will process 60,000 tons of ore every day, crushing this ore and washing it, using poisonous chemicals, and using an estimated 12 million liters of water per day.

There are 227 water sources in the area, and with a pit that deep, of course, the delicate hydrology of the area which supports the diversity of life, will be irreparably damaged.

It is certain that this used contaminated water will leach into the waterways, killing fish, and by bio-accumulation into the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom, will spread a slow cancerous death throughout the area.

Rainfall is averaging at over two and a half tons of rain per square meter per year, so, there will be considerable run off of contaminated water. In the Environment Impact Assessment this project is considered as a High Risk project.

Sacred springs and sacred lands will be rendered unusable, The Shuar will no longer be able to hunt and fish. Their Culture will be destroyed, and their lands polluted for eternity.

The Shuar are dependent on the rivers for drinking water, food and transportation.

The Shuar are dependent on the rivers for drinking water, food and transportation.

Early February this year, the first hearing was held in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and the Minister for the Environment failed to appear, so the case was postponed.

In 1997/8 the Shuar, who live near the mine, were trained by the Government to protect their borders against Peruvian incursions. I was at their General Assembly this year and they say that they will protect their land until their last breath.

These men and women are “warriors”. The worst scenario, which is unfortunately a possibility, is the militarization of the area and serious civil unrest.

The President is relying on mining and oil exploration to continue his “social revolution”, which is financed by the Chinese.

At present Ecuador pays 24% of its Gross Domestic Product to service “low interest” Chinese loans, and it seems that access to more money hinges on China being able to strip Ecuador of it’s most valuable mineral resources, which in turn strips Ecuador of the most ecologically mega-diverse areas left on the planet.

This is a short term gain for one generation, followed by a terrible loss for all future generations. The legacy for the future will be an ongoing huge financial cost to mitigate the effects of Acid Mine Drainage in the upper Amazon, The fabric of Nature and the fabric of society will be devastated.

All the money in the world cannot re-make and re-build a fragile eco-system, and a thousand year old culture destroyed by copper and gold mining. 

Arutam - the spirit  of the rivers, trees, fish and flowers

Arutam – the spirit of the rivers, trees, fish and flowers

When this mine is stopped it has the potential to also stop the Ecuadorian Economy in it’s tracks.

The issue of the Mirador Mine goes beyond minerals and pollution. It is a pivotal point in the future of Ecuador, a direction where the Government and President will protect their Nature and “Good Life” for future generations, or a direction in which they will sell and destroy their Nature, leaving a legacy of severe environmental degradation and an ongoing financial burden to mitigate the effects of further damage from Acid Mine Drainage. In short the second option will destroy the elements of Nature and “the good life” enshrined in their Constitution of 2008.

When the Government uphold their Constitution they will not be able to follow their economic expansion. This is a pivotal situation. The question which the President has to face is indeed extremely difficult. Does he sell the Nature at the expense of future generations, or does he totally re-think and implement a new economic policy?
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