The people of the Andes are taking on the multinational mining companies that threaten their environment

Director Rodrigo Vazquez filmed activists Gabriela Romano, Jenny Lujan and Marcela Crabbe as they take on the multinational mining companies looking to exploit gold reserves in the Andean Mountains.

Here he describes the impact mining can have on communities and why it is critical that people fight back.

I have been filming in the peaks of the South American Andes for a decade, seeing how glaciers below 6,000m are melting.

These melting glaciers have led to a shortage of water, the death of flora and fauna and an end to local farming.

And, given the shocking pace at which such devastating changes have been brought about, the situation throughout the Andes has become dire.

As agricultural communities continue to bear the brunt of global warming, there has been mass migration from rural areas to city slums.

And to add to it all, now dozens of multinational mining corporations are using highly toxic methods to extract gold from the mountain rocks.

These companies, such as Barrick Gold, the world's number one gold producer, are desperate to exploit the gold reserves so as to maximise their profits – and this means producing more and producing it faster, by whatever means necessary.

The steep increase in the value of gold has further motivated the mining companies, which use cyanide mixed with water obtained from the mountain to extract the gold from the rock. They typically use 1,000 litres of water per second for this process, which has severe implications for any form of life in the area.

Examples of existing mines, such as the Bajo Alumbrera mine in Argentina, indicate that the open pit mining proposed by the multinational mining companies completely destroys the local environment.

In Bajo Alumbrera town, both the air and water are contaminated with cyanide, sulphuric acid, silica and hundreds of other toxins. The mine there has essentially turned a valley into a desert.

Open pit mines in the Andes Mountains destroy the glaciers on which these mines are located, worsening the already grave problem of global warming and thus increasing poverty, violence and death.

The destruction of our natural resources is being carried out to enrich a few in exchange for the provision of menial and unhealthy jobs in mines. Is it not time to raise our voices against this?

Governments do not ask the local communities whether they want a mine nearby or not; they just sign an agreement with a multinational, pocket the money (according to insiders, the cut for officials allowing mining is set at 15 per cent in Argentina) and then give the land, the water and the mountain to the corporations.

The corporations then act like the sole owners of these resources - deciding which roads to open and which to close, using water streams without permission, and polluting these resources without paying any kind of compensation.
However, according to the law, companies are required to get appropriate consent from the community prior to initiating any such work. Unfortunately, these big corporations do not comply with the law and the people do not enforce it.

The people living in these communities question how the contaminated water is disposed of and to what extent it is affecting the supply of water to their families. They also wonder what is in it for them.

If we look at the legacy of some of the mining projects in the Andes, the situation does not seem very promising.

Just five years after the open pit mine started work in Bajo Alumbrera, the local livestock was dead, the community decimated and the people forced to migrate to city slums. So, the question arises: who would like a mining corporation to exploit the area they live in?

Although action does need to come from the people living in these communities, the reality is that activists do not have the same economic might as governments and multinationals.

Hence, when Barrick Gold tried to enter the gold-rich Famatina Mountain in La Rioja province, Argentina, it was three secondary school teachers who opposed the move and organised their community to stop the corporation.

They led a long campaign but it only met temporary success. 

And now, in a fresh offensive, seven new multinationals are threatening to destroy glaciers and contaminate the air and water in the Andes.
Now, I am a father of two and I could not sleep well at night if I did nothing at all to stop the destruction of nature that is under way.

I am especially keen to stop the contamination of the Earth's dwindling water supplies. And if you think that this is a problem that does not affect you, you are dead wrong. There is still a chance to do something about this. It is either that or to try living without water.  

Source: Al Jazeera