Challenges to measuring, monitoring, and addressing the cumulative impacts of artisanal and small-scale gold mining in Ecuador
Portovelo-Zaruma, Ecuador is an artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) region with approximately 6000 gold miners working with mercury and cyanide. Although artisanal gold mining (AGM) has taken place in Portovelo-Zaruma for centuries, highly mechanized small-scale gold mining (SGM) processing plants capable of increased throughput began being built in the 1990s. While there are benefits associated with ASGM, there are also negative impacts experienced by the miners and the surrounding communities. To take advantage of ASGM as a poverty-alleviating mechanism while reducing unwanted externalities, the cumulative impacts must be understood. Numerous challenges to measuring, monitoring, and addressing ASGM impacts result from the complexity of the impacts themselves, the nature of the gold mining as an informal industry, and the shortfalls in the current regulatory framework. These are discussed in the context of ongoing, unresolved issues including efforts to address trans-boundary water pollution, management of mining waste, and conflicts regarding priorities, ambiguities, and enforcement of existing regulations and policies. Internationally, interventions to address both AGM and SGM impacts have typically focused almost exclusively on technological changes through the elimination of mercury use. Our analysis suggests that to better address ASGM and their cumulative impacts in Ecuador, it will be beneficial to revisit the legal definitions of AGM and SGM. Additionally, promotion of information-based strategies including educational outreach programs and cross-scale and cross-level mitigation methods may also be beneficial. The success of these strategies to reduce ASGM-related cumulative impacts will depend on sufficient funding and the commitment of stakeholders.
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