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Environment: Mining waste in Peru’s Puno region
September-October 2009

In May 2010 the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) will meet to review work accomplished to date in the field of mining and several other related areas, and to assess what remains to be done. To facilitate this work, civil society groups were requested to submit reports of instances that highlight the implementation of policies already developed or instances that indicate failures in this regard.

Maryknoll Sister Pat Ryan works in the Altiplano of Peru with Derechos Humanos y Medio Ambiente de Puno (Human Rights and the Environment of Puno), a non-governmental organization (NGO), which recently submitted the following information to the UN CSD to be used in preparation for the May meeting.

On April 29, leaders of the indigenous Aymara community of Condoraque approached the NGO to request help in the removal of contaminated mining waste from the Choquene Lagoon and the Condoraque River. Upon visiting the location, NGO members learned that a large scale mining company, before abandoning the site, allowed waste from tungsten, gold and silver mining to accumulate on land bordering with the Choquene Lagoon and the Condoraque River. Formerly pristine, the river had been a source of water and food for Condoraque and 15 other communities located downstream. Now, due to contamination presumably caused by chemical leakage from the mining waste, the water no longer supports life and the nearby former pastureland has turned black and is degraded.

These conditions are of grave concern to the people of Condoraque because they herd alpaca, which require fresh pastureland and uncontaminated water. The alpaca are presently diseased due to the polluted water.

The NGO agreed to help the people of Condoraque in their work of reclamation of the water by networking with other groups that have complementary skills and the collaboration and authority of the government. It is evident that the recovery of community livelihood and food security depends upon the success of this effort. To date the following has been accomplished:

  • Empirical testing of water’s Ph level.
  • Development of informational materials and dissemination to the national ministries of mining and agriculture, the regional ombudsman’s office, the regional governor, the office of the public prosecutor, and radio stations
  • Consultation with the Institute for Legal Defense (IDL) and preparation of the case as a possible national prototype
  • Commitment of the public prosecutor to do an on-site inspection
Although it will be a long time before this case is properly resolved, it is clearly important to:
  • Insist on appropriate and culturally sensitive consultation with local populations prior to and during extractive development projects
  • Form partnerships with other communities for protecting water sources
  • Participate in policy making processes governing extractive industries
  • Establish networks providing a variety of competencies, as in technological, planning, legal, etc.
  • Record the accounts of observations and experiences of the local community
  • Substantiate claims through scientific methods
  • Advocate for reasonable access to scientific evaluation of water for all communities
  • Apply the precautionary principle in cases involving risk of contamination
  • Set development criteria in terms of sustainability.
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