German researchers say mining intensifies social conflicts in Peru

A group of researchers from Berlin’s Humboldt University published a study where they say that mining activities are the leading cause of social conflicts in Peru.

According to the study, which is titled “Alternatives for the development of Peru’s mining regions,” one of the reasons that explains the unrest is the fact that the country’s economic policies do not allow for a large royalty collection from resource extraction and, therefore, there are few opportunities to reinvest those funds in mining cities and towns. On top of that, the experts say that the fall in commodity prices in the past years has worsened the situation.

Interviewed by Deutsche Welle, the mining and development advisor for the German episcopal organization Misereor, Susanne Pries, said that for the past 20 years most community groups in the South American country have been complaining about mining activities polluting their environment, poisoning them, displacing people and intensifying poverty.

Together with local NGO Red Muqui, Misereor’s team visited the northwestern Cajamarca region and, while observing the expansion project of a gold mine, they witnessed how the town of 130,000 people is competing with companies for water resources. This creates environmental conflicts that even though are balanced out by the regional government’s stand on regulating mining operations, are always present due to the antagonistic position of the federal government.

The experts expressed concerns over the fact that some firms are mining up to 660 metres deep, where the water table falls, and thus entire towns run out of water.

In the central Junin region, on the other hand, they noticed how half of the residents make a living by working in the mining industry while the other half do so in agriculture. The two worlds, they write, also tend to collide because everyone wants to have access to the Mantaro river, which is one of the tributaries of the Amazon river.

The German-Peruvian report states that if this situation is allowed to continue, the environmental consequences may go beyond the country’s borders and might affect the continent's freshwater reserves.

The authors criticize the fact that the National Service of Agrarian Health, which is supposed to inspect and regulate mining operations, is led by someone with deep connections in the mining industry.

Peru is the world’s No.2 copper producer and the sixth largest producer of gold.