SANTO DOMINGO — In 2006, the world’s largest mining company, Barrick Gold, bought Pueblo Viejo’s oxide mining site in the Dominican Republic. After signing a contract with the Dominican Republic government, it began extraction in 2012. Unfortunately, its work has polluted the waters of one of the Dominican Republic’s central provinces. The environmental impact of Barrick Gold on the Sanchez Ramirez province is devastating.
For more than 40 years, the Maguaca River provided the main source of Sanchez Ramirez drinking water. However, as soon as Barrick Gold began work, it broke the pipes and the dam, which locals say caused the river’s contamination. The Maguaca River is no longer potable. In fact, families that live and farm along the river have lost livestock from the contamination and many have been affected themselves.
According to a documentary entitled America’s Backyard: The Dominican Republic, local inhabitants have been known to bathe in the water and develop boils a few days later on their legs and arms. Others who live in Sanchez Ramirez saw doctors but never received test results.
The environmental impact of Barrick Gold can be seen in other parts of the community. Painful lesions are bad enough, but agriculture has also suffered. The overall quality of life for local inhabitants is in decline; mining work done at night is loud and keeps them awake, not to mention the stench and the dust.
While many believe the environmental impact of Barrick Gold is yet to be acknowledged, the company has bought bottled water for those impacted by the pollution. The people believe this signals the company’s acceptance that the water is indeed contaminated. Barrick Gold, though, claims the contamination happened before it bought the mines.
The mining company’s response is that the health issues the farmers claim to have are “allegations without any scientific support.” Furthermore, it says that the health conditions of the people living next to the mine were found to be no different from those in rural areas without local mining. Meanwhile, the president of the Dominican Medical College states that the investigations in relation to the farmers’ health remain inconclusive.
There is an ongoing fight in court between the affected farmers and Barrick Gold. The company claims to have provided bottled water to alleviate recurring cyclical droughts, which are indeed a regular occurrence in the region. However, the lack of rainwater in the past was supplemented by the flow of the river, which can no longer be used due to the contamination. The mining concern also states that the noise does not come from its work, but from unrelated mining noises. However, it failed to list the unrelated noises. When asked about relocating the families living near the mining zone, Barrick Gold replied by saying “there are 1,500 homes requiring to be relocated. In accordance with the contract signed by the Dominican government, the latter will determine if these claims are fair and if they can be justified by technical criteria.”
There are communities that have fought hard to keep companies like Barrick Gold from contaminating their lands. Loma Miranda is a great example of this. Local residents are fighting to prevent nickel mining. There’s also a campaign to name Loma Mirando a national park. This would prevent companies from exploiting the land. A huge majority (85 percent) of Dominicans are in favor of this. The project was approved by the Lower House of Parliament three times and twice by the Upper House, but government contracts with the mining companies nullify the law.
There is one way in which the environmental impact of Barrick Gold on Sanchez Ramirez has been positive. It has given Dominicans a sense of pride. Therefore, they haven’t given up and are still fighting to end the exploitation.
– Solansh Moya