Illegal mining and the El Niño extreme weather system have completely dried out one river in Colombia’s Cauca department.
Despite local residents complaining to the country’s Ministry of Mining and Energy and the Environment Ministry more than a year ago, their pleas were ignored. Illegal machinery rolled in and the river dried up.
Some 80,000 people benefit from the river’s trajectory. It is estimated that some 360 hectares of native woodland will be lost, Contagio radio reports.
The armed forces stated that “in order for the zone to recover, around 100 billion pesos ($30 million) will be required, the same total needed for the construction of 3,000 social housing units and almost 1oo years of environmental work,”
An environmental tragedy
Sambingo’s fate was discovered on January 22, after army officials, the airforce and Colombia’s Attorney General visited the Mercaderes, Bolívar and Almaguer municipalities, to the south of the department. The sight that awaited them was tragic.
“We couldn’t believe it. Seeing this view made us really sad, angry and hurt,” one army official commented.
The illegal mining operations responsible for the destruction will also be suffering from their botched handiwork. Government estimates that mining from the Sambingo river once generated around three billion pesos daily, a healthy earner for the criminals behind such large-scale environmental destruction.
In fact, the Sambingo’s fate has also directed Colombia’s attention to the country’s largest rivers: Cauca and Magdalena. Rising temperatures, scarce rainfall and extreme weather conditions have had a serious effect on previously reported channel levels.
Brigadier General Luis Fernando Rojas added that the river was once a vital water source for local municipalities within Cauca.
“The Sambingo provided drinking water to the entire Bolívar municipality, right up to the river mouth in the river Patía. Due to illegal mining, machinery has been used to pump water some 200 meters in order to sort through the material and remove minerals.”
For the Cauca’s residents, the loss of the Sambingo is a stark reminder of the environmental turmoil in which Colombia currently finds itself. This unsightly scar has finally acted as a wake-up call for Government and environmental agencies that the country could soon lose such a precious and vital life-source: water.