Can Brazil and France jointly keep Indigenous populations and protected areas safe from illegal gold-mining damages?

Posted on 10 December 2012    
Open cast mining in the Amazonian rainforest. Guyana
© WWF / Roger LeGUEN
Following the rapid growth of gold price, some of the least disturbed parts of the world forest and many indigenous lands and territories have been facing major gold rushes. In the Amazon, 37% of the National Parks from 7 Amazonian countries face mining issues . The situation is particularly severe in some localities of the Western Amazon (Madre de Dios, Peru) and in the Guianas (Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana).

Unmanaged small-scale gold-mining leads to river siltation, biodiversity loss due to turbidity, soil removal and forest conversion. These practices contribute to 1/3 of the global mercury pollution, and cause major health and environmental impacts. In the Amazon biome, mercury releases into the environment due to unregulated gold-mining exceeds 100tonns a year.

In the North-East of the Amazon biome, a WWF Guianas study showed that gold-mining deforestation has increased 3-fold from 2001-2002 to 2007-2008, covering today more than 65.000ha. Water pollution due to small-scale gold-mining reached a total of 26.000km of impacted rivers in 2008. In French Guiana alone, the Park Amazonien de la Guyane recently announced that since the beginning of this year, more than 900Km of rivers were polluted by illegal gold-mining consequences.

In this context, the WWF network sees in the current state visit of President Dilma Rousseff in Paris an important opportunity for Brazil and France to jointly tackle the social problems arising from illegal gold mining and restore protected areas’ integrity. Indeed, over the 2000s, these two countries have chosen to protect large portions of their Amazonian biodiversity and indigenous lands through the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park in Brazil and the Amazonian National Park in French Guiana, giving birth together of more than six million hectares of connected protected forests.

Following the first gold-mining damages on these areas, Brazil and France have signed in December, 2008 a specific bilateral agreement to jointly prevent and repress rampant illegal gold mining on border zones.

Almost four years after the signing, this bilateral agreement is still not effective: so far, only the French Parliament has ratified it. On the Brazilian side, the ratification process is still slowed down, preventing both countries to effectively benefit from each other’s against illegal mining consequences. In the field, the situation for local communities is still worsening, and data published in December, 2011, demonstrate that 30% of the Wayana indigenous community suffers from mercury contamination above WHO maximum thresholds.

During the Rio+20 summit, WWF and COICA (Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations in the Amazon) launched a call to stop illegal gold mining in protected areas and tackling related social problems.

In this context, WWF asks for an urgent ratification and implementation of the current bilateral agreement in favour of border protected areas and local communities.

Open cast mining in the Amazonian rainforest. Guyana
© WWF / Roger LeGUEN Enlarge

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