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Gold fever in Europe's rainforests

unsui kakusho | 03.09.2005 16:13 |

Few are aware that the EU has tropical rain forest areas under their jurisdiction. Fewer even will be aware of the bad ecological and humanitarian situation there.

French-Guyana is an integral part of France in South America, and therefore the EU. 95% of its area are covered by equatorial rainforests. But known is French-Guyana mainly for the Ariane rocket-launch in Kourou.

But the situation in the forest areas is anything but European. Since 15 years illegal gold seekers have been flooding the rivers and forests. Men and material are smuggled across the border from Brazil and Suriname. Once in the country, their passports are taken, and they are forced to work the mines under hazardous conditions.

An area is deforested, with high pressure water pumps the gravel is turned into a slurry, which is then mixed with mercury, to bind with the gold. After the gold is retrieved the remaining mud is poured into the river or forest. 1,3kg of the toxic metal is used to isolate 1kg of gold. The mercury accumulates in the food chain, poisoning fish which are a staple diet of the local Indians. A study found mercury level higher then WHO standards in parts of the populace. Apart from poisons the gold seekers bring diseases with them, so is Malaria spread in areas not previously affected. As illegals the goldseekers have no access to healthcare.

Even thought the French government is aware of the problem, it is hardly doing anything. And so the precious forests, which regulate the weather, have turned into a lawless zone. So was a research station in the reserve Nourages robbed. The Association UmanArt, which combined culture with environmental protection, had to cease their activities due to gold seekers who stole their boats, as explained in a desperate declaration on their website.

In July 2004 the Regional Council of Guyane asked for help from Paris, but it seems there only the rocket launch pad is of worth.

But not only illegal gold seekers threaten man and nature. The Canadian mining multinational Cambior wants to build an industrial mining factory between two nature reserves. 30 square kilometres shall be covered, with 2 large open pits. 24 hours rock will be transported, crushed and laced with cyanide to retrieve the gold. 1995 a dam in cambior's Omai Mine in Guyana broke, releasing 3 billion cubic litres of cyanide waste into the river, killing all aquarian life. In a similar accident in January 2000 about 100.000 cubic meter waste escaped into the Tisza and Danube rivers. The spill was described by Hungarian officials as the worst ecological disaster since the leak from Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986. About 150 tonnes of fish died and the water will be affected for long.

More information: Campaign «No dirty gold»

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