Condorach – the consequences of mining activity on water in Peru

The “fundamental right to water and sanitation” was explicitly recognized as a human right in July 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly. This important achievement crowned a long journey within the various international human rights bodies. However, universal access to “safe water of acceptable quality and quantity adequate for human use” is still a goal far from being achieved. [1]Definition taken from the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, Substantive questions concerning the implementation of the international covenant on economic rights, … Continue reading

Water and mines, conflicts and concrete damage In Peru, everything that happens around water creates debate, particularly because access to this resource is very unequal. Although statistics tell us that a very significant part of the world's fresh water resources are found in Peru[2]Peru is the 8th country in the world in the list of water-rich countries, 4% of the world's annual renewable resources are located there. Source FAO, Review of World Water Resources by Contry, … Continue reading , water-related problems are very important there. Let us first note that Peru is the country in Latin America which suffers the most from water stress. This means that often, depending on the periods and regions, the population's need for water exceeds its availability. It should also be noted that Peru is considered the third most vulnerable country in the world in terms of the impacts of climate change, which particularly concern the availability of fresh water. Unfortunately, these problems have a greater impact on the poorer sections of society. In rural areas, for example, more than a third of the population does not have access to improved drinking water sources (in towns this proportion is lower, around 15%). We thus see that in Peru water is, very often, an issue of conflict between the population, the authorities and private actors. It is in this context that we can encounter a first link between mining activity and water. Justice and Peace has already had the opportunity to highlight on numerous occasions the very close link between mining resources and social conflicts in Peru. We often notice that in these conflicts, mines and water are two sides of the same coin. If, in 2012, of the 227 social conflicts recorded, 43% were linked to mining and 31% to water, it should be noted that one conflict in four (25%) concerned both mining activity and access of the population to drinking water. Would mineral extraction have a direct impact on water resources? The extraction activity is both very polluting and very demanding of water. Especially in the case of open-cast mines, toxic products such as cyanide are used to extract ores such as silver and gold from rocks. In this process, risks of infiltration into groundwater and rivers are always present. Rivers are also often diverted and the water is then used in the process of washing the extracted ores. This practice reduces water availability to surrounding communities, many of which are located in areas where water is already scarce. Thus, very frequently, problems linked to lack of water or contamination arise in regions where there is extractive activity. In addition, in the Andean region, mines are often located very close to mountain basins where large rivers are born. So close to mining projects, these basins, as well as the rivers, are exposed to very high risks of contamination or even disappearance (for example, the lagoons included in the area of interest of the Conga project in the Cajamarca region are very threatened). [3]Read “Cajamarca (Peru): when the future is debated around water and mines” by Emmanuelle Piccoli The consequences could be even more significant, in particular because of the extension of water quality and quantity problems, which would have repercussions on all populations downstream of these basins. The authorities and mining companies try to minimize the scope of these problems. However, concrete cases systematically demonstrate that extraction activity involves major risks for human health and serious problems for the environment. This is the case of the Condoraque community, in the south of the Peruvian Andes. Condoraque, the place where water burns Condoraque is a rural Aymara community, made up of around forty families, living at 4,600 meters above sea level, in the province of San Antonio de Putina, region of Puno, in the south of Peru. Condoraque is located very close to the Choquene lagoon, where the Tocotoco, Putina, Huancané and Ramis rivers are born, rivers which feed Lake Titicaca (the largest lake in Latin America), and which surround the community. The locals call the rivers and the lagoon where they are born aguas que queman (burning waters). Indeed, on the banks of the lagoon and rivers, the vegetation is burned and there is a smell of sulfur. The water is orange in color and no longer contains life. The pH of the water is 3.25 (it is necessary to reach 7 for the water to be suitable for human consumption) because of substances such as cadmium, lead, zinc and copper, present in quantities harmful to health. For years, the local farmers, living mainly from sheep and alpaca farming, have seen their animals fall ill and die because of the lagoon water, the only one available in the community. The inhabitants of Condoraque also continually suffer from different illnesses: diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, headaches, hand and foot conditions. Lacking access to other sources of water supply, they have no other choice than to consume water which comes from small streams in the area, downstream of the lagoon and is therefore contaminated. Extreme water pollution directly affects the health and livelihoods of local farmers. This contamination affects the entire Lake Titicaca region, as well as its inhabitants and the entire ecosystem of the area. The poor water quality of the Choquene lagoon and its rivers is the result of more than 30 years of pollution caused by tungsten mining in the area. The Compagnie Minière Regina Palca 11, a subsidiary of the Avocet Mining ING Group (with headquarters in Canada and the United Kingdom), owned by the Arias group, has accumulated on site, since 1976, more than 200 thousand tonnes of mining residues. These residues were abandoned on site in 1996, when the company ceased its activities. Over the years, the residues of ores and products used for extraction have seeped into the water of the lagoon, with dramatic consequences for the flora, fauna and human beings in the area. What responsibilities? The case of Mining Environmental Liabilities The case of Condoraque is considered among the twenty most dangerous cases of “Mining Environmental Liabilities” in Peru, of which there are more than six thousand in the country. The concept of PAM (in Spanish: Pasivos ambientales mineros) covers all kinds of residues from an extractive activity, abandoned or inactive, constituting a permanent or potential risk for human health and the environment. In Peru, a law has governed PAMs since 2004. The law specifies that in the event of a PAM, holders of a mining concession must present a plan to close the company, within specific deadlines, unless they waive their rights. rights to the concession in question. [4]“Ley que regula los pasivos ambientales de la actividad minera, Ley n° 28271”, 2 de julio 2004, Lima, Peru PAMs constitute an important debate in Peru, because they raise the fundamental question of the consequences, responsibilities and repair costs of mining activity. Who is responsible for this damage? Who should pay to restore the environment and reimburse populations whose health has been compromised? How should this be accounted for and who should take care of it? Very often, these questions remain without precise answers. Sometimes, those responsible for the pollution (the companies) have left or are declared unable to pay. Sometimes still, those responsible are difficult to define. This is the case for 83% of PAMs registered in Peru, where the direct responsible for environmental damage is not officially identified. In this case, the costs fall even more heavily on the shoulders of the State and therefore of society in general, which must pay for the irresponsible and delinquent behavior of companies, which plunder resources without worrying about the consequences on the population and the environment. In other cases, mining concessions are passed from one company to another and new arrivals refuse to pay for problems they did not cause. This is the case at Condoraque. The Regina Palca II Mining Company abandoned tungsten mining in 1996, without cleaning up hazardous residues from the area. In 2006, another company, Sillustani SA, shareholder of the MINSUR group, bought the mining rights. With a view to resuming extractive activities, Sillustani SA promises local communities and national authorities to restore the safety of water and the environment, by cleaning up the residues that contaminate the lagoon. [5]Through a Closure Plan dated June 2009, and approved by the General Directorate of Mining Environmental Issues – Resolución Directorial N°1354-2009 MEM/AAM But the water will not be cleaned, the area will remain contaminated, and the mine will begin its activities illegally, without fulfilling the promises made to the population and the State and continuing to pollute. It was at this moment that the conflict between the company and the community broke out. Committing to access to water for all The community of Condoraque, tired of this unbearable situation, has mobilized. Thanks also to the support of Peruvian associations such as Derechos Humanos y Medio Ambiente and Red Muqui and to the latter's international network, Condoraque's case was able to be defended in court and broadcast in the press. In 2010, this case reached the United Nations, at the 18th session of the Commission for Sustainable Development, where it was presented as an emblematic case of unviable mining activity. The community and the associations that support it, despite the obstacles due to the slowness of Peruvian justice and the challenges raised by representatives of the mining company, have managed to collect enough evidence attesting to the seriousness of the pollution of the water so that a lawsuit against Sillustani SA for environmental contamination can be initiated. A new phase opens, with a process of dialogue between the community and the company, in order to establish the needs in terms of environmental restoration. A new closure plan is being studied, with the support of scientists from the University of New Castle in the United Kingdom. The case of Condoraque therefore seems to be, for the moment, an example which would lead to a “happy ending”, among the numerous cases of conflicts which oppose local communities and extractive companies. This case reminds us of the paramount importance of supporting, in their search for justice, communities who suffer the consequences of extraction activity, by giving them a voice and the means to assert their rights. This is certainly the task of civil society actors, Peruvian associations and their partners at the international level, also here in Belgium. There are many ways for each citizen to get involved, both individually and collectively, to change these situations. One possibility is to join associations that campaign for the application of the human right to water in different countries, including Peru. These organizations advocate at different levels (from local to the United Nations General Assembly) for water to be recognized as a Common Good of humanity, essential for life, which therefore requires special protection, protection which must also include the risk of contamination. Via the website of one of these associations, theIERPE , you can find out about several initiatives, such as a "European Citizens' Initiative on the Right to Water", the campaign for "Common Water", or the activities of "Rés'Eau", active Belgian associations on the water problem. Other examples to support could be organizations that focus on establishing more binding legal frameworks at the international level, so that companies (and in particular extractive companies) and their subsidiaries prevent damage and respect rights fundamental. Or, if necessary, repair the damage. The member organizations of the Belgian Natural Resources Network are working in this direction in Belgium. Regarding support for communities affected by mining pollution, an original action accessible to any group of citizens would be to offer municipalities twinning with these communities. As part of this decentralized cooperation action, these communities would have the opportunity to disseminate their demands on a broader level, increasing their capacity to put pressure on local authorities and businesses in their countries. Porzia Stella



1 Definition taken from the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, Substantive Questions Concerning the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Geneva, November 2002
2 Peru is the 8th country in the world in the list of water-rich countries, 4% of the world's annual renewable resources are located there. Source FAO, Review of World Water Resources by Contry, Rome 2003
3 Read “Cajamarca (Peru): when the future is debated around water and mines” by Emmanuelle Piccoli
4 “Ley que regula los pasivos ambientales de la actividad minera, Ley n° 28271”, 2 de julio 2004, Lima, Peru
5 Through a Closure Plan dated June 2009, and approved by the General Directorate of Mining Environmental Issues – Resolución Directorial N°1354-2009 MEM/AAM

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