Guardians of water
In 1957 the American newspaper The New Yorker published a poem by British poet W. H. Auden, the end of which recited: “Thousands have survived without love. Not one without water”.
Indeed, he was right. Despite attempts to raise awareness, today, a part of the world’s population still considers clean water as a given, eternally at their mercy, thanks to easy access to water resources. Unfortunately, they are wrong.
Water does not just come out of the pipe. Although it is a renewable resource, waste and pollution threaten to drastically reduce drinking water supplies. In some cases, human intervention in the environment can cause catastrophic effects on drinking water supplies. That’s what is happening in many parts of the world.
Mining poses a risk to drinking water sources in the vicinity of mining projects. In many cases, the chemical residues used in mineral extraction processes end up being dumped into rivers and streams, poisoning riverbeds and transforming water, a source of life, into a critical danger to life itself.
Due to the need to preserve the integrity of water in high-risk areas, such as those regions subject to mining activities, the project “Guardians of water” was born, as a result of a collaboration between CATAPA and the local organization Grufides, along with subsidies provided by the city of Ghent (Belgium).
If the water were to become contaminated, any plant or animal food from the region would be harmful for human consumption
The project, which started in January 2020, takes place in the Cajamarca region, in northern Peru, an area subject to high mining impact. The objective of the project is to strengthen environmental governance in the Environmental Monitoring Committees through the community participation in social management activities and water quality monitoring.
By being active in the territory, CATAPA, together with its local partners, seeks to promote the social commitment of native communities to safeguard the purity of the rivers that run through the Cajamarca region. Since the beginning of the project, CATAPA has been able to count on strong local participation and the support of several communities interested in preventing possible damage caused by the action of mining extraction.
The problem does not only concern the inhabitants of the rural areas closest to the mine. In fact, life in Cajamarca and its surroundings depends on the water coming from the highlands. The rivers that are in danger of contamination represent the most important source of drinking water for the city and its surroundings. It is this same water that irrigates the fields and quenches the thirst of farm animals. Natural products from the region depend directly on local water flows.
This means that if the water were to become contaminated, any plant or animal food from the region would be harmful for human consumption. In fact, recent studies by the OEFA (Organismo de Evaluación y Fiscalización Ambiental) have found the presence of 40% arsenic in avocados from Cajabamba, in the province of Cajamarca.
It should also be borne in mind that rivers are not sedentary entities, as their extension knows no jurisdictions. Many of the rivers affected – or threatened – by the presence of mines, run over vast areas, flowing to the coast or even joining other larger rivers, such as the Marañon, which ends up flowing into the giant sea river, the Amazon. A clear example of the large-scale dangers of river pollution can be found in the Tingo issue. The aim of CATAPA and its partners is to prevent another environmental disaster with such an impact.
Local communities demonstrated their commitment by supporting the creation of committees dedicated to registering the state of river waters. Thanks to the action of CATAPA these committees have been consolidated and strengthened. Nowadays, water measurement tests are considered as legal tests to evaluate the state of the water before and after the mining action. These tests can be the basis for bringing charges against companies that have caused, through their actions or negligence, the pollution of rivers.
The opening of the mine represents a danger to the waters, as the mining waste could poison the river and the fields, composing the requiem for the region and its resources
The project was initially to focus on three local water basins, the Chetillano, San Lucas and Llaucan ones. The first water monitoring was carried out on the San Lucas river in Cushunga and on the Llaucan river in Bambamarca, with the participation of the local population and also with the support of the Environmental Vigilance Committees. Both tests proved the purity of the water.
The normal development of the project was temporarily slowed down due to the COVID-19 situation in the country, but the unforeseen event did not dampen the enthusiasm of CATAPA volunteers and local partners. In fact, to cope with the impossibility of moving around the region, the volunteers active in the territory adapted themselves to continue fighting. Webinars, virtual presentations and online workshops on methodologies and useful tools were organized to familiarize local populations with the process of community-based environmental monitoring of water quality. Photo campaigns were also promoted, videos and documentaries were published, and a basic guide was written to explain how to monitor water. Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, the activities were a success.
When the restrictions were partially lifted, water monitoring was able to start again. Unfortunately, interprovincial travel was prohibited, so no further tests could be carried out in the Bambamarca area. Therefore, it was decided to include the river La Encañada in the project. This river is located right next to the under-construction mining project called Michiquillay, scheduled for 2022. Concern among the local population is high, as construction work on the mine has been accelerated due to pressure from the Peruvian government, which is seeking to boost mining as part of a project to revive the country’s economy.
The opening of the mine represents a danger to the waters, as the mining waste could poison the river and the fields, composing the requiem for the region and its resources. Fortunately, a local committee is already in place to monitor the area. The situation of the La Encañada river is at extremely high risk, as it is an indirect tributary of the Amazon river. Its contamination would put an immense geographical area at risk.
Today, the Environmental Surveillance Committees, continue to monitor the waters autonomously, fulfilling their role as Guardians of the Water. The project ended in August 2020, but the second part has been underway since January 2021.
In fact, despite the achievements, the struggle is not over. Volunteers and local partners are drafting a detailed guide on how to carry out autonomous water monitoring, which will be delivered in Cajamarca and its surroundings. In addition, the initial project has revealed the importance of focusing on the La Encañada river, establishing local committees along its length, and the need for a law that officially recognize the presence of Environmental Monitoring Committees throughout the country.
Here you can find the link to the documentary CATAPA made in Cajamarca.