(Translated by Emily Schmitz, a CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, CSN’s Volunteer Editor.)
The moors in the region of Guerrero, to the north of Bogota, are home to 376 species of plants; four of which are frailejon species, native to the region. Additionally, there are 98 species of bird, 21 species of mammals, 8 types of amphibians and 7 types of reptiles; all at risk due to carbon mining.
Courtesy of Camilo Rodriguez
Mining: Even in natural reservoirs!
By: Carlos Andrey Patino Guzman, Unimedios
Both economic and environmental experts agree: there is no turning back, the country will primarily be mined. The problem is that, in Colombia, regulations to minimize environmental impacts are fragile. The law, for example, accommodates exploration even in natural reserve areas.
For years in Vaupés (located in the Colombian Amazons), the population lay in the crossroads between intensive mining of the area or the conversion of a large portion of the area into the Yaigoje Apaporis National Park. The second option won; at least on paper.
Mateo Estrada, the leader of the Indigenous Regional Council of Vaupés, is conscious that he not only lives in an area of immense mining potential, it is also rich in biodiversity. There, communities have divided opinions regarding which route to choose.
In October of 2009, the Environmental Ministry arrived at the decision to close the possibility of large-scale mining in Vaupés. However, warns Jose Javier Toro Calderon, investigator at the Institute of Environmental Studies (IDEA) in the National University in Bogota, Colombia, with Decree 2820, Law 99 of Environmental Licenses, has been modified, which left the door open to mining in all natural reserves throughout the country.
“We had hope that, this past August, with the modification of said norm, these types of projects would have been strongly prohibited in national parks and moors, but this wasn’t the case. Legislation in Costa Rica and the United States, among other countries, has been clear to reject exploitive activities in other protected territories”, professor Toro states.
The law says: “the delivery of environmental licenses for diverse projects will be privately granted or negated.” Nowhere are natural reserves exclusively excluded. Nohra Leon, director of IDEA, who closely follows the mining case in the moors, holds the opinion that, “it is a latent danger to many of the ecosystems throughout the country.”
No turning back
Although the path to massive mining has been closed in Vaupés, the temptation still remains. This is because the current economic development model of the country leaves no alternative, ensures Jairo Sánchez, UN expert in environmental economy.
“Colombia will depend on this activity in the upcoming years because, in neither the medium or short term, no better industrial capacity or serious strengthening of the agriculture industry can be seen. Also, the supposed petroleum boom is questionable. As there is no other important sector that generates income, this will be the only option,” explains Sánchez.
In fact, in the last 15 years Colombia has reaffirmed its profile as a mining and hydrocarbon exporter. According to data from the National Administrative Statistic Department, in 1995 the sector represented barely 24.71 percent of exports and by 2009 had risen to 41.96 percent. Pertaining to mining alone, in 2002 the sector represented only 12.72 percent of total exports (US $ 11.975 billion), while in 2009 it represented 24.82 percent (US $ 31.853 billion).
The government estimated that, at the end of this decade, carbon production will be doubled, rising from 72 billion tons per year to 145 billion. Gold will rise from 40 tons per year to more than 80 tons. According to professor Sánchez, “this will not only represent many more royalties, but many more headaches as well.”
“Despite being aggressive to the environment, the country must invest in the train of intensive mining (reduce natural water reservoirs, contaminate rivers and affects on biodiversity) and unchain social problems (the arrival of armed illegal groups, forced displacement, the abandonment of agriculture, etc.). It is even more frightening when it is taken into account that no basic instruments exist to diminish negative effects, due to an incredibly weak regulatory system,” he affirmed.
The fragility of the State to protect marshes, national and regional natural parks, forest reservoirs and moors is evident through information collected by the Environmental Ministry, the Office for National Parks and the Alexander von Humboldt Institute.
In reality, in National Natural Parks, 44 legal mining titles exist, which utilize 45,175 hectares of land. Of those 10.4 million protected hectares, 0.4 percent are affected. This percentage could increase to 3.3 percent, if the 490 enrolled mining requests are taken into account, which would damage 348 thousand hectares.
The situation is acute to analyze other figures: in zones of protected forest reserves (around 469 thousand hectares created to protect river basins and the diversity of fauna and flora) there are 57 protected mining titles that include 22,103 hectares or 4.7 percent of the territory.
In this protected forest reserve zone there are 327 mining requests that aim to use 264,140 hectares or 56.4 percent of protected land. Complimenting this, the moors, one of the most valuable and most difficult to restore ecosystems, provide water to millions of people throughout the country. There are 391 mining titles granted in this area, affecting 108,972 hectares.
As if that wasn’t enough, there are 1,181 requests in progress to enable mining. These requests would utilize almost 555 thousand hectares or 46.8 percent of moors not protected by National Parks throughout the country; moors which are strategic ecosystems and should not be intervened in any way.
The same type of conflict between mining and the environment is evident in data that demonstrates how exploitative activity wants to gain territory not only in national forest reserves but in protected moors as well.
Gains and Losses
The professor Nohra Leon points out critical cases, such as the moor in Guerrero, where the extraction of carbon and materials for construction are destroying one of the principal hydric reserves in the northern region of Sabana in Bogota.
“An extractive economy sacrifices spaces for the production of agriculture, affects security and food sovereignty, the natural patrimony and leaves nothing but environmental liabilities. Even worse is that there is not even a desire to think of generating added value from mining. Without a doubt the sector will bring high profits but, the investigative group the institute of Environmental Studies asks: how much will this be reflected through a better quality of life for the population?”
The elimination of the license for mining exploration in Colombia lacks concrete methodology regulating and verifying environmental impacts and understanding rates of ecological security. For instance, there have been no charges since 1994 and existing charges have been made mostly against third parties than against ecological damage itself. In the opinion of Professor Jose Javier Toro, these facts make the future of mining worrisome.
This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.