World Bank' Planet Pollution

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Wellington Lyons

In Cajamarca, Peru lies Yanacocha, the most profitable gold mine in South America. It is also one of the most environmentally destructive operations on the planet. Already one of the largest mines in the world, Yanacocha got the go-ahead on expansion in 1999 when the World Bank offered it a $100 millionloan. Locals were outraged, and you should be too. Here’s why:

The Yanacocha mine uses massive amounts of water in its day-to-day operations—so much in fact, that its stakeholders have acknowledged that it has depleted water levels in four of the six regional lakes. Depleted lake levels are one of the most serious signs of watershed damage. For farmers in the area, already living in third world conditions, it means less water for their fields. Less water equates to fewer crops, lowered income levels, and increased malnutrition. Yanacocha’s operations keep the poor mired in misery.

The World Bank (whose alleged mission is to alleviate poverty worldwide) frequently offers giant loans for extractive, export-based operations, and only after the fact does the Bank even begin to notice the consequences of such projects on the ways of life for nearby residents.

As you can imagine, Yanacocha is not an pro-environment facility. The four open pit mines operated there — Carachugo, Maqui Maqui, San Jose Sur and Cerro Yanacocha — provide the ore that is then treated with cyanide to extract gold. This cyanide solution is allowed to seep into the watershed. Yanacocha has contaminated four rivers that were among the only sources of water for indigenous peoples. And it isn’t just cyanide that’s getting into the water. Kilometers away from the mine the water is described as yellow or brown, with a foul odor and taste. This is because of the iron, sulfates and copper in the water, all byproducts of the mining operations, and all at dangerously high levels. The pollution has gotten so bad that the Peruvian Ministry of Fishing has acknowledged local extinctions of fish and frogs, which used to thrive in the area. These resources, which were both staples in the diets of many before the mine was established, are no longer available.

As we have seen with so many World Bank sponsored projects in the past, the Bank’s notion of “progress” often means enormous changes in the styles of living for many unfortunate people.

In Cajamarca, local populations are now exposed to unbelievable health risks when confronted with using the water around the mine, but many have no alternative. The water that is there, that was once used for drinking, watering of animals, cooking and irrigation is now an environmental hazard, and is certainly not fit for human consumption.

And it isn’t just the water that’s killing these people. On June 2, 2000, a truck carrying mercury, another byproduct of the mine, spilled over three hundred pounds of its cargo in Choropampa, a rural village. People gathered the mercury, believing it was valuable or containing gold, and soon developed symptoms of mercury poisoning. Over 400 people were sickened by the spill, and long-term effects have yet to be reported. Perhaps even more alarming than the spill itself is the fact that doctors sent in were initially unable to determine the cause of the widespread illness. This is remarkable given that the company claims local people were immediately informed of their accidental exposure to the dangerous element.

It is obvious that the World Bank’s Oil, Mining and Gas sector is one of the most environmentally dangerous groups on the planet. The World Bank itself has shown remarkably little interest in clean energy or in financing environmentally friendly projects. The organization must be stopped from profiting off the planet at the expense of the environment and the welfare of local populations. The time has come to let the World Bank know that its support of such environmentally and socially devastating projects is unacceptable. Join the Middlebury Progressives at the World Bank’s annual meeting in Ottawa, Nov. 18 and 19, and come see what the anti-globalization movement is all about. Call Al (ext. 6183) or Wells (ext. 4365) for more information. No gas mask required.