Waste from Huanuni Mine Harms Communities Downstream

By Chenoa Stock | Mission Co-worker, UMAVIDA, Joining Hands Bolivia


The Bolivian Joining Hands Network, UMAVIDA (Joining Hands for Life), focuses their campaign for water rights and environmental justice in the city of Oruro, a principal center for mining, Bolivia’s second largest industry. Located just outside of Oruro, the small town of Huanuni is home to the largest tin mine in Bolivia.  The Huanuni mine, nationalized in 2007, dumps its waste into the Huanuni River, without treatment, which then flows down through the town and subsequently to other communities living downstream.

UMAVIDA accompanies these downstream communities through CORIDUP (Coordinator in Defense of the Desaguadero River and the Uru Uru and Poopó Lakes), a grassroots organization made up of 80 affected communities located around the Huanuni basin. The environmental situation in the basin is grave. The constant contamination washed downstream includes not only chemical waste from the mine, but also the pollution of plastic bottles, bags, etc, that accumulates in the river current and is left behind when the lake and river dry up.

Due to this, the communities, with the support of UMAVIDA, made a series of demands and denouncements to the government, forcing them to declare in 2009, through Supreme Decree 335, the Huanuni basin an Environmental Emergency Zone. With this declaration, six lines of action stated that all work is to be paralyzed, a plan for environmental remediation would be put into place, an inventory of the damage would be taken, and the construction of a dam to hold the waste would be completed before using the $40 million from the government to build a mineral crusher that would double not only the output of the Huanuni tin mine’s mineral, but also its waste.

Despite all of the actions of demanding and protesting, to this date this Supreme Decree has not been enforced, and few actions have been encouraged or completed for remediation and to stop the contamination.

Accompany UMAVIDA and these communities struggling for justice and the care of God’s Creation. Listen to the personal testimonies of those affected by this downstream contamination and see the overwhelming contamination caused by the waste and trash the river washes into their lands and homes.


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