By Pearl Rimon
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
LIMA, Peru – Peru has been experiencing clashes for the last 18 months in the Cajamarca region. Four people were shot and killed and more than 20 wounded in the protests surrounding Newmont’s $5 billion Conga mine due to taking water away from the villages and farms.
“The only thing the people want is water for families, but the mining companies want to take it. And soldiers will kill if you get in the way”, said Adelaida Tabaco, the widow of a man killed in the most recent clash.
In order to build Conga, two lakes will be dug for the copper and ore while two other lakes will be filled with the debris from separating the metals from ore. Conga is projected to produce 680,000 ounces of gold and 106,000 tons of copper yearly.
The conflict spans the continent of South America, pitting South American governments paired with foreign companies against citizens who are at risk of losing their homes due to their water supply being used for industrial causes. South America is seeing a trend with leaders accelerating the approval of water-use projects like the Conga mine. Peru is on track to expand 6% in GDP this year due to gold, silver and copper mine investments.
The majority of Peru’s mines including Conga are located in the Andes where they experience nearly nonexistent rainfall from May to October. According to the UN, growing populations have decreased the amount of usable water per person by 1/5 since 1992 in Peru.
In the areas of the country where mines are expanding, the water supply is already in short supply according to the National Water Authority. The Peruvian government must spend $394 million on canals and reservoirs by 2016 for use during the annual water shortages that occur during the dry seasons.
The conflict over the limited water resources has become deadly. Since 2010, fifteen people have been killed in protests against the government for allowing mining companies to use the water resources. This water shortage has made it difficult for substantial farming to occur. The protests began in April 2010 against Southern Copper Corporation’s mine near the Chile-Peru border. This escalated the next year by two people dying in protests against water use by a Switzerland-based company’s mine.
The constant hostility due to the mining operations has been an issue for President Humala since his slight margin of victory in 2011.
People in the Andes area are already struggling with water shortage due to the rainfall being below average for two years.
For more information, please see:
Bloomberg News — South Americans Face Upheaval in Deadly Water Battles – 13 Feb 2013
Financial Times — Mining: Andean concessions – 05 Feb 2013
Vancouver Sun — Manthorpe: Peru battles widespread local hostility to mining projects – 03 Feb 2013
Human Rights Watch — Peru: Letter to Presidente Ollanta Humala – 20 September 2012