There is a rain forest in Pacto, and rivers, waterfalls and pre-Incan remnants of the Yumbo people. This part of the western Andes mountain range ecosystem preserves endemic plant species such as the ivory nut-producing palm and a species of cherimoya fruit in danger of extinction. Eight percent of all of Ecuador’s mammals live in this region. In Pacto, one also finds a small town, with an unhurried, peaceful life. In geopolitical terms, it is governed as an autonomous parish, and is part of the Quito Metropolitan District (DMQ). Because of the value of its ecosystem, the Quito Metropolitan Board in 2011 declared Pacto’s micro-river basins, from the Mashpi, Guaycuyacu and Sahuangal rivers, to be protected natural areas. The declaration decreed that the land be used as an area for conservation and the development of agriculture, livestock and sustainable agroforestry. It explicitly prohibited non-renewable natural resources mining and drilling activities. One year later, this decree seems to have been forgotten.
The Ministry for Non-Renewable Natural Resources granted two mining concessions within the DMQ to the National Mining Corporation (ENAMI): Urcutambo and Ingapi. Together, these concessions amount to more than 4,600 hectares and will directly impact the communities of Pacto and the autonomous parish of Gualea. Besides social effects such as the interruption of daily-life in the communities and migration, the Chirapi River water system, which includes the Pishashi, Chulupe, and Peripe rivers and twenty gorges and ravines, will be harmed.
These concessions grant ENAMI the rights to prospect, explore, exploit, benefit from, smelt, refine and market the metallic minerals that may be found in or obtained from the subsoil in these territories. In this case, according to an environmental impact study carried out by ENAMI in 2013, they plan to obtain gold, silver, copper and molybdenum. At the present time, ENAMI is propelling the advanced exploration phase forward to “obtain the exact dimensions and details on the wealth of the mineral deposit.” Toward this end, they intend to make exploratory shafts, drillings and underground passages. According to a report by E-Law (Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide) on the environmental impacts of metallic mining, among the consequences of advanced exploration activities are the removal of vegetation, deforestation, opening of roads, contamination of water with lubricants, additives, muds, and accidental spills, and the noise and vibrations from the worker brigades’ settlements and the company’s encampments.
One of the other more worrisome effects is the disproportionate use of water that would harm the Chirapi River water system, and consequently the region’s communities. For the Ingapi concession, ENAMI requested six rations of water, which run at 1.5 litres per second, from the Chirapi, Churupe and Chulupe rivers and two Guagpi gorges, for a period of at least two years. That translates into a usage of more than 770,000 liters of water per day, almost 22 million litres per month, or 522 million in two years. That is approximately 14 times more water than the parish of Gualea distributes in one year.
The Urcutambo concession also requires such a disproportionate quantity of water: ENAMI requested four collection points from the same Chirapi, Churupe and Chulupe rivers and two Guagpi gorges. This will likewise lead to a usage of 350 million liters of water over a period of two years, 10 times more water than the DMQ distributes for the same region each year. In other words, the two mining concessions, which are being explored simultaneously, will cost the Chirapi water system more than 870 million liters of water, almost 25 times more water than the same sector of the Quito metropolitan district uses.
This excessive volume only serves to satisfy the early mining phases. To justify its use, ENAMI declared that “these rivers are not being taken advantage of by farm owners as the lands are always humid due to the tropical climate ….” This information is incorrect according to the DMQ Environmental Secretary, which concluded that the Chirapi River micro-basin occupies almost 30 percent of the Pacto parish and furnishes around 3,500 people in 14 communities in Pacto and Gualea with water for drinking and production. The Ingapi community, which would be directly affected by the mining concession named after it, carried out a community water usage census in July 2014 that showed that the majority of the community uses water from the Chirapi River for drinking and local production, such as for making panela (hardened molasses).
The most alarming aspect in the granting of these concessions is that the communities were not consulted. In ENAMI’s 2013 environmental impact study, mention was made of a survey of the region’s inhabitants that recognized that 75 percent of the population rejects mining activity at the Ingapi concession, and 60 percent rejects the one at Urcutambo. For that reason, in the document, ENAMI classifies the level of conflict as high in both cases. And so, I ask: Is it feasible to carry out a large scale project that would generate such a high level of social conflict? What are the principles that guide these policies in Ecuador?
In a country defining itself as a State of lawful rights and justice, all the actions of public authority must embody the respect and the enjoyment of the rights of individuals, the collective, and nature. Along these lines, economic development is a means to attain these principles. In this way, there is no dilemma with respect to large scale metallic mining: since water is an essential right for life, it is a priority that water be destined for human consumption, for irrigation that guarantees food sovereignty, to conserve the ecological flow and for productive activities, according to Article 318 of the Constitution. The sustainable use of water is not compatible with large scale mining.
Likewise, Ecuador recognizes communities, communes, and parishes as the basic units of social participation, and prescribes that autonomous parochial governments must incentivize the development of community productive activities, preservation of biodiversity and protection of the environment (Articles 267, 248 and 238 de la Constitution).
In this context, neither should there be a dilemma with respect to large scale metallic mining: environmental consultation is a right and an exercise of basic ethics such as Article 398 of the Constitution decrees that the community must be consulted on any decision or state authorization that may affect the environment, and be informed widely and in a timely manner.
This consultation must be carried out in accordance with international human rights criteria. International norms on consultation emphasize that the latter must be free, prior, and informed, and aimed at reaching an agreement or consent concerning the proposed methods (ILO Covenant 169). Therefore, if the majority of communities disagree with the Ingapi and Urcutambo mining concessions, is it legitimate to carry out these activities?
Large scale mining in Pacto violates the State’s very objective: the protection and attainment of rights; the guarantee of peace and a life free of imposition and violence; the liberty of each individual and every community to decide autonomously how to live; and the respect for our indigenous peoples and campesinos who honor nature harmoniously, which they intrinsically depend upon, and which we have agreed to respect.