In the midst of COVID-19 quarantine, 35 female miners and their families receive food and cleaning kits financed by voluntary contributions from citizens
Azuay, Ecuador — After a seven-hour journey, Marina arrived in Loja to pick up her father from the hospital, so he could spend his recovery time with her and his three grandchildren, in Camilo Ponce Enriquez, province of Azuay, Ecuador. On the way back, Marina couldn’t sleep. Her biggest concern was how to balance caring for her three-year-old son and his father, who is over 60, with working at the mineral dump-site as a mineral female miner. In spite of this, she did not lose hope of finding among the remains of the mines enough material to sell and cover the needs of the day.
On Tuesday, she went to the cooperative to pay, as she does every month, the installment of the loan with which she built her house. Upon arrival at the mineral dump-site, she was informed that she could not enter, that a virus had arrived in the country and that all activities would be suspended indefinitely.
“That’s how it all started and it seemed like a nightmare. What I was worried about the night before didn’t matter anymore. For the first time in my life, I went blank, I didn’t know where to go, I couldn’t go anywhere. All the time I was thinking, I’ll come home empty-handed today.” Marina
Within her limitations, Marina and her children looked for a proper space for grandpa, because of his age and health condition, he must have as little contact as possible with other people. Every day the anguish increased, while the portions of food on each plate decreased.
One week later, Marina tells how her face lit up when one of the leaders of their community called and told her that she would be given food and cleaning supplies in the next few days.
Like Marina, 35 women from Ponce Enriquez and their families, 150 people in total with limited resources, including elderly, disabled people and young children, were supported by this initiative as a result of the solidarity of people from different areas of the country.
In order to guarantee and coordinate the delivery of donations, National Program of Chemicals, a planetGOLD partner project of the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, technical assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funding from the Global Environment Facility, offered its support. In this way, using the funds collected, the project managed the purchase of supplies from local businesses promoting community development and coordinated the distribution with the Department of Social Action of the Decentralized Autonomous Government of Camilo Ponce Enriquez, who delivered the products to each family.
“This is the result of many people working together. The associations of mineral female miners are a network of support, care and response. This kind of initiative makes us feel strong and accompanied, and allows us to face the challenges we have in the mining sector with much better conditions”, said Eliana Paltán, leader of the “Rumi Kuri” (Golden Stone) Association.
Mario Rodas, Coordinator of the National Program for Chemical Management, highlighted that “Solidarity is essential for mining communities to face challenges as great as the current pandemic, especially because they have a high degree of vulnerability due to health risks associated with the use of mercury in non-industrial mining activities”.
Protecting health and caring for the environment
Camillo Ponce Enriquez, Portovelo and Paquisha, locations where artisanal and small-scale mining is in continuous development. The mining sector employs a large group of the population in these communities. The National Program for Chemical Management, active in those areas, seeks to eliminate two tonnes of mercury releases linked to the non-industrial mining activities mentioned above, and to safeguard the water and natural resources on which the communities depend. Proper management of chemicals and wastes from productive activities reduces risks to human health and the environment.
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This article was originally published on May 5, 2020 by UNDP Ecuador