Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Colombia "On the Verge of an Environmental Disaster."

A coal crane and barge near Santa Marta, where coal
has caused severe pollution, according to Colombia's
inspector general. (Photo: RCN Radio)

They're the sorts of words you'd expect from Greenpeace, or some other radical activist. Instead, they're a quote from Colombia's Inspector General Sandra Morelli in recent interview in El Tiempo.

Morelli asserts that the controversial Cerro Matoso nickel mine lacks environmental licenses, and that it hasn't paid fees for dumping wastes. That is has no water management plan, nor has made a required environmental impact study.

Morelli directly contradicts the position of the minister of the environment, who has said that Matoso's license is sufficient. But, says Morelli, the laws have changed since Matoso obtained its licenses, and those licenses have expired.

Morelli also has harsh words for the handling of coal shipments in Santa Marta Bay, which she says are "polluting the waters and beaches." Deforestation and the diversion of the Manzanares River are also sending sediments into the bay. And on and on.

Morelli does not mince words, about either the businesses or government officials, who she charges "demand nothing from the region's hotels," nor its businesses, which include the Drummond coal company. "We are working against the wind and tides," she says, "against infiltraded agents and corrupction..."

A bus belches fumes this afternoon in Bogotá.
Pollution laws do exist here, but you wouldn't
know it - and environmental authorities don't
appear to, either.
And, with that, Morelli has barely gotten going. She goes on to charge that environmental authorities simply aren't doing their jobs, naming a badly-designed canal which will destroy whole islands and deforested regions simply left that way. The Rancheria River en La Guajira, which she says was diverted from its course with no concern about social and environmental impacts. "Institutional weakness," she says, is causing "enormous pollution in the Bogotá River."

"Colombia signs all of the environmental treaties," says Morelli, "about the transport of toxics substances, about the protection of miners, about water, ages of workers...and the bureaucrats seem to forget their binding character."

"I have no doubt. Colombia is on the verge of an environmental collapse without precedents in our history."

I have virtually no first-hand knowledge about the places Morelli mentions. But her I find her charges easy to believe. After all, the current minister of the environment came to his job from being a newspaper editor. His predecessor had been a peace negotiator. That makes one question their dedication to environmentalism, as well as whether the government which selected them values the environment.

Colombia, one of the world's most biologically megadiverse nations, whose ecology can potentially be a huge economic driver, should give Morelli's accusations at least as much importance as the fortunes of the national football team.

Morelli's words come to me like a bit of fresh air (if that comparison makes any sense in relation to an environmental disaster). After all, I live in Bogotá, which has air pollution laws - which are routinely and flagrantly violated by vehicles and industries of all sorts. Why should I doubt that environmental law enforcement outside the capital, where there are fewer eyes to witness violates, aren't much worse?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Unknown said...

Thanks for raising awareness about this important issue!

Carlito said...

Morelli advisors are worried because she likes to talk without evidence first; Cerromatoso is a great example of this, you will see.

Miguel said...

Thanks for your comments. I'm no expert on the Cerro Matoso controversy. However, it does seem clear to me that if environmental law has changed so much, new impact studies and plans are justified.


Unknown said...

I just read a really plausible novel called the prophesy Gene and the main characters uncover a number of unintended genetic mutations as a result of the 1980s Aral Sea environmental disaster in Central Asia and the accidental release of a genetically modified strain of anthrax. Some people eat oxen that have grazed on vegetation that has absorbed the anthrax since soil is where anthrax naturally occurs) and those people's digestive systems irreparably stop working, so most of them suffer a slow painful death. They also uncover fungus and viruses hidden in a cave in Northern Canada. They know that they could be released into the air shortly and cause a pandemic, but they also discover that the fungus consumes carbon monoxide and water and releases hydrocarbons as its waste product, effectively reversing global warming. Unfortunately the scientists don't realize this and will probably destroy the fungus because they don't understand it. The book is by Stuart Schooler. His website is www.stuartschooler.com and there is a link to a blog and a YouTube video (http://vimeo.com/533658950