Policy Gains for Those Affected by Toxic Metals in Peru

Populations contaminated by industry work together for environmental and human health protections

By Javier Jahnke | Red Muqui

To date, in Peru, there are at least 4,867 people, many of whom are children, from 17 regions of the country including indigenous peoples’ territories, affected by diverse sources of contamination from various industries, including toxic metals contamination from mining activity.

The Red Uniendo Manos Perú (the Joining Hands network of Peru), together with the Social Action Commission of the Catholic Church (CEAS) and the Peruvian network Red Muqui, as well as other civil society institutions, promoted the creation of a National Platform for the Health of People Affected by Toxic Metals in 2017 to address the health and environmental impacts of toxic metals contamination.

Red Muqui is a network of Peruvian institutions that, acting locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, defend and promote the recognition, respect and exercise of the rights of communities and populations, as well as sustainable development in situations in which Mining activity has been carried out or is expectant, by addressing its social, environmental and cultural implications. The Red Uniendo Manos Peru is a member of the Muqui Network.

The Platform, made up of leaders and representatives of the affected people from 11 regions of Peru, including Junín, Cajamarca, Pasco, Lima, Cusco, and Puno, convened themselves in November of 2017 and demanded that the government establish environmental and human health policies, strategies and practices at the local, regional and national levels in coordination with the central government bodies (Ministry of Health, Ministry of Energy and Mining, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Agriculture, etc. ,).

Such policies require that the government, among others:

  • Apply a vision of holistic health that recognizes the generators of environmental and social impacts, and which integrates environmental and human health.
  • Establish a remediation plan for environmental liabilities, with priority for the most serious, as the main sources of environmental pollution.
  • Provide quality drinking water on a regular and permanent basis to populations affected by environmental pollution.
  • Prioritize budget allocation from the central government for prevention, care, treatment and research in environmental and human health.
  • Ensure adequate and specialized priority attention for those affected by toxic metals, which must be carried out by trained personnel, following the specialized medical care guides, 24 hours a day, prioritizing that it be carried out in the same place of residence, and as necessary to guarantee the transfer of the patient, all supported by normative frameworks in the three levels of government (national, regional and local).
  • Ensure the availability and accessibility of resources: specialized care and updated protocols for the different toxic metals and specialized care centers for those affected by heavy metals at the macroregional level, among others.
  • Develop a focus on environmental health care for affected populations, taking into account the impacts of mental and psychological health on those affected, especially women and children, as well as the need to have a gender-specific approach in gynecological and obstetric care (care for women by women professionals).

The Platform held continuous work meetings to influence the Ministry of Health (MINSA), Ministry of the Environment (MINAM), Ministry of Housing (HOUSING), and with the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (PCM) to raise their demands and proposals.

Between 2016 and 2018, there were 5 different Ministers of Health, and with each new Minister the advocacy process had to start over from the beginning.

Ultimately, the combination of protests by populations affected by toxic metals from the mining activity in Espinar (Cusco), in Pasco, who chained themselves to the doors of the MINSA and then took over their facilities, in addition to the protests of those affected by hydrocarbons in the Amazon, pressured the government to agree to order a national policy for people affected in health by toxic metals.

As a result, in June 2018, the “Sectorial Policy Guidelines for the Comprehensive Attention of Exposed Persons to Heavy Metals and Other Chemical Substances” was issued by the MINSA.

It seems important to us that with these guidelines the MINSA seeks to affirm its role as the governing body in health and emphasizes its role in the care and promotion of environmental and human health in coordination with regional entities.

It is important to highlight however that the environmental health problems of Peru exceed the current capacities of the MINSA. Therefore, it will be necessary to continue working to ensure that there is a dedicated budget to this work and to ensure the commitment of all the involved sectors and the continued participation of the affected populations in the process.

From the standpoint of social organizations and the Peruvian civil society, we will continue to demand that the Peruvian State assume its role as guarantor of the right to health in relation to the problem of environmental pollution that we suffer in Peru in particular as a result of extractive activities.

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