Illegal Gold Miners In Brazil Destroying Amazon, Indigenous Tribes At Risk – by Alex Létourneau (Kitco News – September 10, 2014)

(Kitco News) – Illegal gold mining is by no means a new phenomenon, but it has been getting more and more attention with gold’s decade-long bull run. In the past, the focus on illegal gold mining has been more about the money countries are losing, but the spotlight is how starting to shift to the impact of these illegal practices on the environment.

At the moment, the Amazon rainforest, Earth’s largest rainforest, is seeing a growing number of illegal miners operating within it, causing environmental damage and disrupting Indigenous tribes living on government protected land.

In a joint statement to Kitco News, Marco W. Lentini, head of the Amazon program of WWF-Brazil, and Jean Timmers, superintendent of public policy at WWF-Brazil, said the region between the Amapá state in Brazil and French Guiana is one area that is experiencing major problems.

The two added that although there aren’t any specific survey’s documenting the number of illegal miners in the area “ it can certainly reach tens of thousands workers across the Amazon.”

“Illegal mining has intensified land use conflicts and also give incentives to encroach and access remote areas within protected areas in the Amazon, frequently with great conflicts with indigenous and other traditional populations,” they said.

They also said that illegal gold mining polluted important water sources, “and consequently damaged the life of Amazonian populations far down the streams. In several places, such activity might be causing permanent damages to aquatic species and water resources.”

Brazil boasts roughly 60% of the Amazon rainforest within its borders, with Colombia and Peru making up 10% and 13% respectively. The rest is shared between Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela.

Towards the northern part of Brazil, at the border it shares with Venezuela, illegal gold miners have disrupted the protected land of the indigenous Yanomami tribe.

This is not a new development for the Yanomami, as the issue peaked in the late 80’s and early 90’s after illegal gold miners destroyed Yanomami land, effectively killing off a large portion of the tribe due to malaria, mercury poisoning and outright violence.

An international campaign was eventually launched to help protect the tribe and their indigenous area and the issue was suppressed somewhat.

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