Friday, April 19, 2024

Chapter 6: Water – The industry's Achilles heel

Chapter 6

Water: The industry’s Achilles heel

Mining has severe impacts on both the quantity and quality of water. Large mines can consume millions of litres of water a day, putting immense pressure on water supply for communities. Mineral processing also contaminates vast amounts of water, which may become a health and environmental hazard unless it is properly treated and contained. This chapter looks at these two aspects of the issue, focusing on illegal mining (garimpo) in the Brazilian Amazon; and industrial copper mining in Chile, in the context of the country’s ongoing megadrought.

‘Unlike cocaine, which is illegal in any form, once laundered, illegal gold is indistinguishable from that mined legally. After it has disappeared into global supply chains, it is virtually impossible to trace. Annual turnover from illegal mining in Brazil varies between R$3 billion [$570 million] and R$4 billion [$760 million].’ ‘There are indigenous people and even some indigenous leaders who say that mercury isn’t an issue at all, that’s all a nonsense, and that what’s important is getting access to the gold … The miners make them promises – cars, money, mobile phones, women – this co-opts them and creates division within indigenous communities.’

– Jorge Bodanzky, Brazilian filmmaker, director of The Amazon: a new Minamata?

A garimpo site in the Munduruku Indigenous Territory, Pará state. Mining is illegal in Amazonian reserves, but the activity skyrocketed during the Bolsonaro presidency of 2019 to 2022 (Image: Vinícius Mendonça / IBAMA, CC BY SA)

‘In the past if you said that you were against mining everyone thought you were mad, but now in certain circles people are starting to recognize that mining isn’t the future.’

– Constanza San Juan, activist with Coordination of Territories in Defence of the Glaciers

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