Tragedy struck on Friday April 1 when an illegal gold mine collapsed in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca, trapping eighteen miners, five of whom were killed
After an intensive eight-hour rescue operation, four were pronounced dead at the scene, and one succumbed to his injuries the following day in hospital. The victims were all young men aged between 20 and 24.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy swiftly released a statement condemning illegal gold mining as a crime not only against Colombian resources, but as an attack on fundamental human rights and the environment. They vowed to close the country’s remaining illegal mines and to fight against those funding them.
This month’s incident occurred almost exactly two years after a mining accident killed 12 people on April 30, 2014 at the illegal ‘Agualimpia’ mine, located very close to Santander de Quilichao.
These fatal accidents in illegal mines are far from being isolated incidents – as the mines are not obliged to comply with state safety regulations, mortal risk to the miners is considerably higher. Environmental issues such as deforestation, and contamination of crops and water supplies are also rife.
According to El Pais, the mining industry in Colombia has been the cause of almost 1,000 deaths in the last ten years, with illegal mines currently operating in an estimated 24 out of the 32 states.
A study by the Geographic Institute Agustín Codazzi estimates that in the Cauca Valley alone 5% of land in the region mined legally, in contrast to 20% which is mined illegally.
However putting a stop to illegal gold mining is easier said than done, as this lucrative industry is often funded by armed groups working in remote locations, making them difficult to police.
Plus, illegal miners themselves are often willing to work despite the high risks as they can earn significantly more than the minimum wage.
By Fayida Jailler