Andean ecology

Devastating floods expose Peru's climate crisis

Some 70,000 are displaced and at least 70 dead as Peru's heaviest rains in two decades have unleashed flash-floods and landslides across the country. The National Civil Defense Institute (INDECI) is stretched to limit, with several communities left isolated by washed-out roads and bridges. The north coast has been hit the hardest, with the worst impacts in Lambayeque region, where some 40,000 are displaced. But the situation is grim both up and down the coast from there. INDECI is coordinating with the Defense Ministry to establish an "air bridge," bringing aid by helicopter to the stricken coastal cities of Ácash region. At least 15 pueblos outside Chimbote are cut off after the bridge over the Río Lacramarca was wiped out by a huayco (mudslide). Residents are also trapped in Huarmey district, and the town's hospital was destroyed. In all, 20 of Peru's 25 administrative regions are impacted.

Frog die-off ominous sign for Lake Titicaca

Peru's National Forestry and Wildlife Service (SERFOR) is investigating the death of some 10,000 frogs whose bodies have been found in the Río Coata, which flows into Lake Titicaca. The alert was sounded by the local Committee Against the Pollution of the Río Coata, which accused the authorities of ignoring the river's severe pollution. Activists brought 100 of the dead frogs to the central square in the regional capital, Puno. Said protest leader Maruja Inquilla: "I've had to bring them the dead frogs. The authorities don't realize how we're living. They have no idea how major the pollution is. The situation is maddening." The committee has long been petitioning for construction of a sewage treatment plant for the river, and also for bringing informal minig camps up the river under control. Last year, arsenic, presumably from unregulated gold-mining in the area, was found to have contaminated several wells in the Coata watershed. The Puno regional health department conducted the study following a campaign by local campesino communities. 

Peasant strikes mobilize again in Colombia

Colombia's government on Aug. 22 sent a delegation to the Pacific coastal department of Chocó, six days into a massive civil strike (paro) that has paralyzed the marginal region, with roads blocked and businesses shuttered. Aug. 18 saw street clashes in regional capital Quibdó as the feared ESMAD anti-riot force was unleashed on protesters. Demands had been bulding for weeks over potable water, electricity and other basic infrastructure for poor peasant, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. On July 20, social leaders announced their refusal to celebrate Colombia's Indpendence Day, instead holding a 40,000-strong protest march in Quibdó under the slogan: "We change the cry of independence into a cry of protest for our abandonment by the state." (NTN24, Aug. 23; Contagio Radio, El Colombiano, Bogotá, Aug. 22; Prensa Rural, Aug. 20; El Espectador, Bogotá, July 20)

Colombia: court protects more lands from mining

Colombia's Constitutional Court on June 11 overturned a government decree from 2012 that would allow mining in nine areas of the country, together making up 20% of the national territory—a collective area approximately the size of Minnesota. The designated "Strategic Mining Areas" were decalred by the National Mining Agency in decrees 180241 and 0045 of February and June 2012, respectively, affecting lands in some 20 departments, from the Pacific coast to the interior Amazon. The challenge was brought by the NGO Tierra Digna on behalf of several indigenous and campesino groups within these areas, who said to the decrees violated their right to prior consultation. The ruling virtually ends the government's declared ambition to make mining the “motor” of the Colombian economy. (El Tiempo, June 13; Colombia Reports, June 12; El Espectador, June 11)

Afro-Colombian anti-mining protests repressed

Afro-Colombian protesters who were demonstrating on the Pan-American Highway in southern Cauca department to oppose illegal mining on their lands were violently dispersed by riot police April 27. The feared National Police riot squad, ESMAD, used tear-gas and rubber bullets to clear the roadway, leaving several injured, including women, children and elders. Some 2,000 people from over 40 communities in north Cauca took part in the action to protest that "Afro-descendant territories continue to be under threat from multinational mineral companies and illegal mining." (Las 2 Orillas, ¡Pacifista!, April 27)

El Niño impacts deepen Ecuador quake disaster

A magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck coastal Ecuador on April 16, leaving at least 270 dead and over 1,000 injured. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue teams dig through the rubble. The two towns most affected are Portoviejo and Pedernales, in Manabí province, where water and communications infrastructure were destroyed. Emergency response efforts have been hindered by damaged roads. Manabí had been hit just days earlier by flooding, leaving roads in the province impassable even before the quake. The province was also hit by flooding in February, with rivers bursting their banks and inundating roadways. Homes and fields were destroyed in some villages. The repeated floods are belived linked to this year's severe El Niño phenomenon. (AFP, April 18; CNN, El Pais, Spain, Noticias Cuatro, Noticias Cuatro, Spain, Ecuador Times, April 17; El Universo, Guayaquil, April 16; El Universo, Feb. 18)

Drought brings hunger to Colombia's Guajira

Struck hard by a drought related to this year's severe El Niño phenomenon, Colombia's northern region of La Guajira is suffering from a crisis of malnutrition. Tania Galván, a leader of the region's Wayúu indigenous group, told local media that her people's children are dying each week from malnutrition. According to the National Health Institute, 897 children currently suffer severe malnutrition in La Guajira. Indigenous leaders charge the government is ignoring an order from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to take urgent action against extreme poverty in the region, where more than 4,000 indigenous children have died of malnutrition in the past eight years. The December ruling came in a case brought by Javier Rojas Uriana, leader of the Shipia Wayúu Association. Indigenous leaders say drought conditions are compounded by local corruption, economic slowdown, and massive use of water by the Cerrejon coal mine in Albania municipality. (Colombia Informa, Feb. 20; El Espectador, Feb. 16; Colombia Reports, Feb. 12; Al Jazeera, Feb. 3)

Colombia: court protects highlands from mining

Colombia's Constitutional Court on Feb. 7 revoked all licenses granted to companies that sought to carry out mining activities on páramos, the high alpine meadows that protect watersheds. The ruling overturns Article 173 of the government's new National Development Plan (PND), which allowed 347 existing licenses in the alpine zones to move ahead, although barring the issuing of new ones. The ruling also struck down provisions of the PND that barred victims of the country's armed conflict from reclaiming usurped lands that had been converted into so-called "Projects of Strategic National Interest" (PINE). Additionally, the court overturned a third article that allowed the government to forcibly expropriate privately-owned land for mega-projects. The decision is seen as a blow to the ambitions of Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras, mastermind of the PND. The case was brought by the left-opposition Polo Democrática. (Colombia Reports, El Tiempo, Equilibrio Informativo, El Heraldo, Barranquilla, Feb. 9; El Espectador, RCN Radio, Feb. 8; Silla Vacía, Feb. 7)

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