MADE. The growth of illegal mining exceeds the ability to control
Even alongside legal concessions, illegal activities take over that province with a high environmental impact.
During seven years, the areas with mining activity increased by 855 hectares in the Napo province, according to a latest report from the MapBiomas Amazonía project. This amount represents a growth of more than 300% in relation to the areas of 2015.
In addition, approximately 17% (145 hectares) of this increase is located outside of areas legally designated for mining activities.
The underlying problem, according to Johanna Ruiz, an environmental engineer, is that this expansion has taken place “without controls, under a cloak of corruption and, in many cases, at the hands of other crimes such as drug trafficking, smuggling, among others”.
In the case of Yutzupino, state operations have yielded no results. According to MapBiomas Amazonía, exploitation activities without the minimum of environmental care have grown by 78.6%, especially in the adjacent area of Naranjalito, on the opposite bank of the Jatunyacu River.
“Between January and December 2022, an increase of 55 hectares was identified, which adds a total of 125 hectares (equivalent to 88 professional soccer fields) affected by mining from October 2021 to December 2022 at this site,” the report points out.
For its part, in Huambuno, the affected area increased by 86.1% last year. “It has spread to the east, downstream of the Huambuno River.”
Andrés Pérez, a mining and oil engineer, stressed that impunity and the lack of real control capacities have created, since 2014, an overflowing scenario of illegal activities, which in “cases like Yutzupino are overlapped by supposed legal concessions.”
When asked by LA HORA about why the controls against illegal mining are inefficient, the Agency for the Regulation and Control of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources responded that it has 37 technicians nationwide to carry out the control, regulation and inspection of the owners of mining rights.
That number of officials, according to Pérez, has to cover too many tasks and the conditions in which they work “may make them susceptible to bribery and pressure.”
The Agency reported that during 2022 it carried out a total of 348 operations against illegal mining. Of that total, less than 6%, that is, 20 operations, were carried out in Napo; despite being one of the provinces with the highest growth in illegal activities and which is feeling its consequences the most.
More than 51% of the controls are concentrated in the provinces of Zamora (70); Chimborazo (41), El Oro (42); and Loja (25).
However, the number of operations that were carried out in 2022 is 17% lower compared to the 418 registered in 2019. That is, the risks and sources of illegal mining have increased, but it is less controlled than before the pandemic.
In addition to the fight against illegal activities, the officials of the state Agency must deal with more than a thousand inspections a year of legal holders of mining concessions.
LA HORA consulted on what actions are implemented to formalize small and artisanal miners, as a way to prevent them from falling into criminal networks.
The response of the Agency for the Regulation and Control of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources was a list of all the articles of the Mining Law where the registration and registration of this type of mining is regulated.
Official figures speak of 434 valid artisanal mining permits. Of this total, only 6 are in Napo.
In the case of small mining, there are 1,517 permits nationwide; but a little more than 3%, that is to say 49, are in Napo. (JS)
The Minister of Energy acknowledges corruption problems
The Minister of Energy, Fernando Santos Alvite, declared, within an investigation of the Código Vidrio web portal that “has a list of at least five officials and former officials of the Agency for the Regulation and Control of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources who are involved in acts of corruption in mining verification processes”.
In addition, he commented that he is concerned about the latest report from the Organization of American States (OAS) on irregularities in Ecuadorian gold exports to China.
Santos Alvite does not even rule out that “criminal organizations are corrupting inspectors so that they turn a blind eye, especially in gold shipments.”
This scenario, according to Pérez, complicates any possible initiative to formalize the mining sector. “First, corruption must be purged and controls substantially improved because, otherwise, small and artisanal miners will continue to be easy prey for the mafias,” he stressed.