In Panama, concerns about mining’s impacts on water and the environment have sparked protests. Grantees Mellissa Fung and Lynn Burgess travelled to the country as part of their reporting on Latin America’s new conquistadors, Canadian mining companies. They were told by one mine owner in Panama that his mine had no negative impacts, but the locals had another story:
“Jeremiah Perez has lived in the village of Molejones for most of this life. He calls himself the vice-president of the town’s tourism committee, but it’s hard to see any tourism in the area these days. He clambers across the steep bank where the Molejones and Turbe rivers come together and points to the water.
“Look,” he says, “look at the turbidity of the river. The Molejones used to run clear down this area. Now look at it.” The difference is striking. The muddy Molejones, which flows down from the Petaquilla gold mine, joins up with the clearer Turbe at this junction.
Locals here speak nostalgically about the shrimp and fish they used to catch from these banks. No more, says Perez. “Most people are afraid to speak out, but there have been a number of skin infections caused by the lack of clean water. We’ve also experienced diarrhea here and some type of gastrointestinal illness that wasn’t common here until the mine started operating.”
Just down the river from where he’s speaking, a group of women are knee-deep in the river, washing their clothes. There’s no other choice. For many here, this is their only source of water.”
Photo: A Ngobe activist protests against a Canadian mining company in Nueva Lucha, Panama, where indigenous people see the mining industry as a threat to their way of life. Image by Mellissa Fung. Panama, 2012.
We’re featuring our water-related reporting all week in honor of World Water Day on March 22, 2013.