Cases of malaria on the rise in Colombia’s mining regions, study shows

Cases of malaria in regions of Colombia that are known for their high indexes of illegal mining have increased more than 30% in the last three years, a new study shows.

According to the paper published by local researchers, the illegal extraction of gold poses high risks for the environment and population nearby because it does not adhere to regulations.Illegal gold mining usually leaves pools of liquid that become mosquito-breeding grounds, which helps spread the insect-borne disease.The illicit activity usually leaves pools of liquid that become mosquito-breeding grounds, one of the main dangers in spreading the insect-borne disease.

The issue, however, is not the exclusive result of illegal mining, the experts say. “Mining, legally and illegally, alters ecosystems,” Socrates Herrera, director of the Caucaseco Research Center and one of the main authors of the study told local newspaper El Espectador this week (in Spanish).

Herrera said that while cases of malaria across the country have decreased over the years, from 117,000 documented cases in 2010 to 60,000 in 2013, they have risen by more than 30% in areas with high mining activity.

As per September, illegal miners were extracting about 80% of the country’s gold output.

Illicit miners, which are present in 233 Colombian municipalities, have already caused the deforestation of 16,784 hectares (65 sq. miles) of old-growth —or primary— forest. Those operations have also contaminated at least 19 rivers, data from the Environment and Sustainable Development Ministry shows.

Cases of malaria on the rise in Colombia’s mining regions, study showsIn the past year, Colombia has worked on improving the country’s mining standards. Earlier this month, the country’s Constitutional Court banned mining in the moorlands, which are believed to store water for around 70% of Colombians.

Authorities have adopted a “zero tolerance” stance when it comes to illegal mining and taken steps to expedite permit approvals. They have also tightened regulations to establish a project's area of influence in order to improve mitigation of environmental and social risks.

Other than gold and coal, Colombia holds vast and untapped reserves of emeralds, silver and oil.