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Imider Silver Mine, Morocco


Description:

Imider is the biggest mine on the African continent, and 7th largest producer of silver in the world. It is also home to a 5-year long fight (preceded by decades of mobilizations), as a group of protesters has been living on Mount Alebban, about 300km east of Marrakesh, since August 2011.   The mine is run by Societe Metallurgique d'Imider (SMI), founded in 1969. SMI started extracting silver in 1978. Some protests took place in 1986 against the digging of a well which would have had a negative impact on local inhabitant and farmers. Leaders of the protest were imprisoned and wells were dug, to the detriment of the local community.

In 1996, SMI was privatised. That same year, a 45-day-long sit-in was held on the national access road. The sit-in was eventually violently repressed, culminating in the drowning of the camp.

In 2004, SMI dug an illegal well in the mountains, which had a dramatic impact on water access for the local Amazigh population, pumping the aquifer dry.

In 2011, protests resumed and a camp was set up after some youths were turned down for temporary jobs at the mine. The activists who refer to themselves as the "Movement on the Way of 96".  Since then, those in the protest camp, mainly subsistence farmers and migrant workers, have kept shut the valve to one of the mine's biggest wells, to stop the use of the village's groundwater.

Impacts from the mine include chemical pollution, new diseases such as cancer, decreased in agricultural production.

Imider residents - who are mostly ethnic Amazighs - say the mine has drained their water reserves for decades and devastated their agricultural community, using 1,555 cubic metres of water per day, 12 times the village's daily consumption.

Moha Taouja, a local activist said, “the water tank that provides water to the silver mine company takes 24 liters every second. This overuse of water has influenced the traditional irrigation process, resulting in having a number of dry wells.” [1].

The mine also produces dangerous toxic materials such as mercury, zinc and cyanide, which affects agricultural produce. Elders in the community say the water became polluted with chemicals used by the mine, and the elders tell the young how crops from fig and olive trees have diminished over the years.

Some believe the mine is contributing to cancers now evident among villagers and which they say were not seen before [1].

The mine is also criticised on the grounds that there is little wealth distribution in the local area.

The protest initially hit the mine hard, with reduced capacity from 30 to 40% reported by some sources from 2011-2013. However it is estimated that production recovered back to normal as the mine partly economised on water and dug new wells. The leverage of the villagers was gone, but they stayed.

The initial dialogue with the mine’s management and local authorities came to a halt in 2012. The demands of the protesters include an independent environmental study on the impact of the mine. They want jobs, asking that 75% of the jobs in the mine go to the community, and education, better infrastructure and health care, in one of the poorest regions in the country.  According to one visitor to the camp in 2016 following the COP "In their resistance, the villagers built several small cabins on top of the hill where they come together, cook, and keep watch day and night. Over the years, they have organized many collective marches from the villages to mount Albban and gathered in great numbers on the hilltop to demonstrate their willingness to continue the struggle and to come together as a community. They have established a general assembly according to a traditional indigenous model of decision-making (the Agraw), where concerns and future strategies are discussed. All decisions are made by consensus. The struggle in Imider incorporates principles such as radical democracy, decentralized decision-making, and gender equality. Moreover, some of their most active members in the camp have managed to attract international media attention through their connections and activities on social media. They have expressed their solidarity with other similar struggles like Standing Rock, and the protesters open up their camp to whomever wants to show solidarity and exchange ideas. When I arrived at the camp there were activists from Algeria, Tunisia, Kenya and the Navajo Nation. [5]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Imider Silver Mine, Morocco
Country:Morocco
State or province: Tinghir Province, Drâa-tafilalte administrative region
Location of conflict:Imider (or Imiter)
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Water access rights and entitlements
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Silver
Water
Industrial waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details

In recent years the mine produced between 185-240 tonnes of silver-metal, with 99.5% purity.

So far, the protesters estimate they have withheld more than three million tonnes of water from SMI since 2011. A 2014 report found that after villagers cut off one water source to the mine, SMI’s processing capacity dropped 40 percent in 2012, and 30 percent in 2013.

A report issued by INNOVAR, an independent hydrogeological group based in Temara, Morocco, found that the mine has had a devastating impact on Imider’s khettara system, a traditional underground canal network that has provided water to farmers in the desert region since the 14th century.

Explicitly attributing the decrease of water to the mine, the report found that the wells constructed by the mine in 2004 caused a 48 percent decline in water transported by the three khettaras in Imider between 2004 and 2005. In the same year, farmers’ wells dropped by 1.25 metres [2].

Type of populationUnknown
Affected Population:Local farmers, Amazigh people
Start of the conflict:01/08/2011
Company names or state enterprises:Societe Metallurgique d'Imider (Imiter Metallurgic Company, SMI) from Morocco - Operator
Relevant government actors:The Imider Mine is operated by La Societe Metallurgique d'Imider (Imiter Metallurgic Company, SMI) a subsidiary of Managem S.A.. Managem is owned by Societe Nationale d'Investissement (SNI), a private holding company owned by the Moroccan royal family.

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Pastoralists
Women
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Led by Berber Amazigh community, Migrant workers, unemployed youth
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Blockades
Development of alternative proposals
Land occupation
Public campaigns
Sabotage
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Closing down of one of the water sources - financial impact felt for 2 years, social media activism

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Waste overflow, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths
Other Health impactsCancer
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Land dispossession

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
As a result of the protest the mine was forced to operate at reduced capacity. One activist has spent 4 years in jail and others have also been arrested.
Development of alternatives:The demands of the protesters are simple. They want an independent environmental study on the impact of the mine. They want jobs and education, better infrastructure and health care.
They demand that 75 percent of all future jobs in the mine should go to young people from Imider.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:While the mine is still operating, and justice has not been served, the persistence of the organising is admirable. Further the resistance has led to increased democratic organizing with the encampment holding regular general assemblies using the Agraw system, an ancient model of Amazigh democratic tribal governance that include men, women and children from the seven villages comprising Imider, who meet twice a week to assess the community's situation and strategies.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Alan Green (2015). Moroccan silver draws miners and protesters. Middle East Eye. 20 August 2015
http://www.middleeasteye.net/in-depth/features/moroccan-silver-draws-miner-and-protest-1912130534

[2] Nadir Bouhmouch and Kristian Davis Bailey (2015). A Moroccan village's long fight for water rights. Al Jazeera Online. 13 December 2015
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/12/moroccan-village-long-fight-water-rights-151205121358666.html

[3] Financial Times (n.d.). Societe Metallurgique d'Imiter SA
https://markets.ft.com/data/equities/tearsheet/profile?s=SMI:CAS

[4] Zakariaa El Farhi (2016). Five years of Protests against a Silver Mining Company in “Imider”. The Moroccan Times. 18 November 2016.
http://themoroccantimes.com/2016/11/21638/five-years-of-protests-against-a-silver-mining-company-in-imider

[6] On Moroccan Hill, Villagers Make Stand Against a Mine, By AIDA ALAMI, JAN. 23, 201
https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/world/africa/on-moroccan-hill-villagers-make-stand-against-a-mine.html?_r=1

[5] Imider vs. COP22: Understanding Climate Justice from Morocco’s Peripheries, Jadaliyya, Nov. 21., 2016
http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/25517/imider-vs.-cop22_understanding-climate-justice-fron

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Official website
http://imider96.org/about-us/our-history/

Other documents

Protesters in Imider have been taking turns for five years to block access to their water source.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/imider-morocco.jpeg

Imider protesters on top of an Atlas Mountain. The text on the ground reads Not For Sale (MEE Archive, February 2014)
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/_Huts_of_Imider-protesters_on_top_of_an_Atlas_Mountain._The_text_reads_on_the_ground_reads_Not_For_Sale_in_French__MEE_Archive__February_2014_.jpeg

An activist with the Berber flag. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/world/africa/on-moroccan-hill-villagers-make-stand-against-a-mine.html?_r=1
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/morocco1-superjumbo-1024x682.jpg

The protest camp holds regular general assemblies using the Agraw system, an ancient model of Amazigh democratic tribal governance (Credit: Nadir Bouhmouch/Al Jazeera)
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/The_protest_camp_holds_regular_general_assemblies_using_the_Agraw_system__an_ancient_model_of_Amazigh_democratic_tribal_governance__Nadir_Bouhmouch_Al_Jazeera_.jpeg

Meta information

Contributor:Platform London
Last update06/03/2017

Images

 

Protesters in Imider have been taking turns for five years to block access to their water source.

Imider protesters on top of an Atlas Mountain. The text on the ground reads Not For Sale (MEE Archive, February 2014)

An activist with the Berber flag. New York Times.

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/world/africa/on-moroccan-hill-villagers-make-stand-against-a-mine.html?_r=1

The protest camp holds regular general assemblies using the Agraw system, an ancient model of Amazigh democratic tribal governance (Credit: Nadir Bouhmouch/Al Jazeera)