Environmental destruction and the lives of Yanomami and Johannesburgers

The Yanomami, one of the largest indigenous groups living in the Amazon, are suffering from malaria and malnutrition, threatening the existence of the entire community. First, the miners came to their area, and with them came malaria and tuberculosis. The rivers turned blue to dark brown, mining poisoned the water and fish with mercury, and the game population declined. The natural home of the Yanomami, once a pristine strip of the Amazon, has been ravaged by illegal deforestation and gold mining.

The community still pays the price for South Africa’s past gold mining in poor parts of Johannesburg. 60,000 people live next to the Thulani/Doornkop mining waste dump, located next to a former mine. On windy days, toxic radioactive dust that contains large amounts of uranium and heavy metals such as cyanide, arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium rises above the dump. Adult residents have respiratory problems, and children suffer from severe cerebral palsy. There are more than 6 000 such abandoned gold mines in South Africa.

A recent series of spills from waste tanks in the Canadian province of Alberta has contaminated local waters and is causing concern among local First Nations people. In February this year, at least 5.3 million litres of toxic tailings leaked from Imperial Oil’s oil sand mine tanks. The previous spill from this company’s tanks took place last May. In April this year, on the other hand, the energy company – Suncor reported a leak of 6 million litres of wastewater from a sludge holding facility.

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