Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Defending the Upia River

On Plaza Bolívar, protesting mining pollution along the Upia River. 
Today, people who live near the Upia River protested on Plaza Bolívar against the impacts of mining along the river.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get details from them about what sort of mining - whether gold, coal, silver or emeralds - is being done there, or details about the impacts on the environment and the people, whether erosion, pollution or the destruction of biodiversity.

Pollution, likely from small, illegal mines,
near the city of Buenaventura (Photo: Panoramio.com)
The answer most likely is 'most or all of these impacts.' Colombia is experiencing a mining boom, which brings in billions of dollars in royalties, but also takes a huge toll on the nation's environment. Authorities have tried to exercise control on some mines, most famously the suspension of  Greystar's gold mine, planned in or near a high-altitude wetland called a paramo. On the other hand, the small, informal and often illegal mines generally produce proportionately more pollution from chemicals including mercury and cyanide, and also endanger their workers. The Santos administration has tried to shut down thousands of illegal mines - but that's only a little easier than ending the drug trade.

The Upia River (Photo: Panoramio.com)
The Upia River, located on the eastern side of the Andes Mtns east of Bogota, hasn't made much news, which probably means that destructive mining goes on there unchecked and unnoticed by anybody outside the region.

Large-scale mining, altho generally cleaner than small, informal mines, has been widely criticized in Colombia as a losing proposition, both economically and environmentally. The government has called mining the 'locomotive' of economic growth, and it does contribute a lot to the GPD. But mining areas tend to be poor and environmentally damaged. And those royalties often feed corruption instead of improving common people's lives.

The fear is: When Colombia's finally dug up up and exported all of its natural resources, it'll be left still poor and corrupt and with its tremendous biodiversity gone forever.

Few nations have built stable, solid democracies and a strong middle class, which is the foundation of every democracy, by exporting raw materials. Rather, they turn those raw materials into finished products, such as furniture, computers and airplanes and sell them for much more money, generating lots of skilled, good-paying jobs along the way.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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