The extraction of raw materials in Latin American countries has jumped from 2400 million tonnes in 1970 to about 8300 million tonnes in 2009. This extractive boom is particularly significant for metal ores. The mining conflicts featured map presents cases of mining conflicts related to metal ores, industrial minerals and construction materials mining activities. Metal ores present the largest number of reported cases.See more...
While in 1970 the weight of industrial and metal ores accounted for 10% of the total material extracted in Latin America (LA), in 2009 it reached 25%. In 2009, industrial and metals ores were, after biomass (soy, cereals, wood, fish), the second material extracted in the region, accounting for 2100 million tonnes of ores (UNEP & CSIRO, 2013), of which a large part is exported. In 2012, LA provided 45% of the global copper output, as well as 50% of silver, 26% of molybdenum, 21% of zinc and 20% of gold (Henriquez, 2012). This region alone currently attracts a third of global metal-mining investments of the World, more than any other region.
As the map shows, the expansion of the metal mining frontier – the places where mining reserves are located and exploration and exploitation activities are concentrated- overlaps with both environmental (biodiversity hotspots, forests) and socially sensitive areas (water resources, peasant and indigenous lands). This is particularly relevant considering that mining activities are high-impact activities. According to the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States, hard-rock mining generates more toxic waste than any other economic sector (EPA, 2013).
Further, high-grade ore deposits become depleted, the mining frontier moves to lower-grade ores, with increasing social and environmental costs. The decline in the quality of ores has direct implications in terms of the land needed for mining activities, as larger mines (often open-pit) have to be built and higher quantities of waste rock are generated. This is especially sensitive in the case of sulfidic material presence that has the potential to generate acid drainage and pollute water resources. As ore quality of mining deposits decreases, the amount of water, energy and chemical inputs used and the amount of waste generated in the mining process increases significantly (Prior et al , 2012).
As illustrated by the map, mining activities are fostering social unrest and conflict throughout the region. However, most national governments in the region, regardless of their political regime and social discourse are promoting these activities and approach mining contestation through coercive actions, criminalization and de-legitimation. One of the most concerning trends is the increased number of cases of anti-mining activists that are dying due to police or army repression or by anonymous crimes that remain mostly unsolved. Central America (ej. Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala) has a long history of violence against activists and during the past decade similar trends have spread in South America rising increasing concerns.
Mariana Walter, ICTA, UAB.
EPA. (2013). 2011 Toxic Release Inventory National Overview. Washington D.C.
Henriquez, V. (2012). Latin America to receive 50% of global mining investments up to 2020. Business News Americas.
Prior, T., Giurco, D., Mudd, G. M., Mason, L., & Behrisch, J. (2012). Resource depletion, peak minerals and the implications for sustainable resource management. Global Environmental Change, 22(3), 577–587.
UNEP, & CSIRO. (2013). Recent Trends in Material Flows and Resource Productivity in Latin America. Available at: http://www.unep.org/dewa/portals/67/pdf/RecentTrendsLA.pdf (See less)