Europe’s thirst for lithium threatens livelihoods, biodiversity in Portugal – by Marta Vidal (Al Jazeera – January 30, 2024)

Open-pit mines are planned for Portugal’s northern region, worrying locals who say their livelihoods are at risk.

Covas do Barroso, Portugal – Paulo Pires walked up the hill with his flock of sheep and dogs on a warm day in August, as a stream of water gushed down an ancient irrigation channel that has been maintained by local communities over many generations. “There is a lot of wealth here,” said Pires, now resting in the shade of an oak tree by the flowing water.

For centuries, Covas do Barroso’s water, pastures and forests have been managed collectively to integrate farming, livestock and forestry in a sustainable manner. But Pires is worried. Savannah Resources, a company based in the United Kingdom, aims to develop Western Europe’s largest open-pit lithium mine in Barroso, bordering the Peneda-Geres National Park in northeastern Portugal.

“When I was a child I used to come here with my friends and we bathed in the spring,” said Pires, pointing to an area littered with plastic pipes and blasted rocks, the remnants of lithium prospection carried out in 2017 in the village’s common lands.

Pires first saw the wounds opened by the search for minerals and has since felt a sense of dread thinking about an open-air mine on his doorstep. “We’re afraid of the noise, of the dust, of water contamination. Where will I take my sheep?” he said.

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