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The dangers of mining in Indigenous areas

Illegal gold mining area near the Menkragnoti Indigenous reserve in Pará in 2019

João Laet / AFP via Getty Images

In 2020, the federal government drafted a bill to regulate mining on Indigenous lands in the Amazon. If approved by congress, the new legislation could increase the area of rainforest threatened by human activity by 20%, from 700,000 to 860,000 square kilometers. Under current rules, mining on these lands may only take place with congressional authorization. To measure the potential impact of the new bill, environmental engineer Juliana Siqueira-Gay of the University of São Paulo (USP) and colleagues from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais and Brisbane, Australia, considered all areas with mining potential. According to their analysis, the total area that could be affected is home to 222 Indigenous groups, representing a high cultural diversity. Its estimated value to the global economy through food production, carbon mitigation, and climate regulation is at least US$5 billion. The researchers found that 115 Indigenous areas (31% of the total) contained at least one potential mine, the majority of which are already in the exploration phase, which is the first stage of the licensing process. They also noted that the bill does not include any environmental or social safeguards (One Earth, September 18).

Rodrigo Cunha