Monday, November 7, 2011

River mining in Guatemala – people sifting toxic trash for riches..

The lustrous green gemstone  Jade in its beautiful and expressive form has many myths surrounding it. Though not comparable with Gold or Diamond, people have attached some significance to it.  Understand that it also comes in other shades of white, yellow, violet tones also.   Jade was used not only for the finest objects and cult figures and  also in grave furnishings for high-ranking members of the imperial family.  In the present day,  this gem is regarded as a symbol of the good, the beautiful and the precious.  'Jade', or yu, as it is called in China, is strictly speaking a generic term for two different gems, nephrite and jadeite.
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico, Pacific Ocean, Belize, Caribbean,  Honduras and El Salvador.  Guatemala city is its capital – the Mayas lived in Gautemala and this country is part of Mayan civilization.   It became  independent from Spain in 1821, joining the Mexican Empire.  In Sept 11, general elections were held and won by right wing retired army general – Otto Perez Molina representing Patriotic Party.  
Civilizations have existed on river banks.  The longest river of Guatemala is Motagua, measuring approximately 486 km (302 miles).  It empties into Omoa Bat off the Gulf of Honduras.  The river runs in a valley that has the only known source of jadeitite (jade) in Mesoamerica, and was an important commerce route during the Pre-Columbian era. The important Maya site of Quirigua is near the river's north bank, as are several smaller sites with jade quarries and workshops.  The Motagua river valley also marks the Motagua Fault, the tectonic boundary between the North American and the Caribbean Plates. The Motagua fault has been the source of several major earthquakes in Guatemala. Much like lake Amatitlán, the river is highly polluted with untreated sewage, industrial waste, tons of sediment (garbage) and blackwater from Guatemala City.
Toxic, waste, sewage, garbage, blackwater are all attributes to something bad one thought !!
But there are newspaper reports  that Guatemala's toxic river of trash  is attracting thousands of 'miners' risking life in search of gold and jewellery. Dailymail UK reports that amidst a torrent of grey, toxic water, these are the men who call themselves ‘miners’ as they risk their lives in search for gold and jewellery in a garbage-filled gorge. The water spews from a drainage tunnel and surges along the ravine, tumbling along trash that has fallen from Guatemala City’s landfill 1,000 feet above. Despite the foul odours, the danger of unstable piles of garbage collapsing and the chance for heavy rain to suddenly raise the water level, dozens of people are busily at work searching for jewellery and other metal scraps knocked loose from the trash.
This is a new type of mining; men of Guatemala city search the garbage with hopes of finding gold and jewellery, even in obnoxiously toxic water.   Its called ravine the mine and they call themselves as miners.  Each day around 300 hike the bottom of the ravine, wading into the water in search of rings and bracelets made of silver or gold.  The murky waters sifts and carries away the lighter garbage, heavy metal makes it to the stream bed which is most sought after.  The water spews from a drainage tunnel and surges along the ravine, tumbling along trash that has fallen from Guatemala City’s landfill 1,000 feet above.  Despite the foul odours, the danger of unstable piles of garbage collapsing and the chance for heavy rain to suddenly raise the water level, dozens of people busily search for jewellery and other metal scraps knocked loose from the trash.
It smacks risk in every count and it is reported that in 2008, mountain of garbage collapsed on the miners killing dozens of them.  The reports mention of these scavengers coming there at dawn as if one comes regularly to their work places dressed tidily.  They carry with them shovels and backpacks filled garbage bags, snacks and change clothes. They leave their dry clothes at an improvised camp and start looking for treasures.
Scavenging is reportedly prohibited by the Govt as it can be potentially dangerous, especially during storms but the lure of gold rings and bracelets make them go for the kill, against the odds.  Where there is risk there could be reward also.  Some state that the dangerous heavy rain can the blessing on winter, as the increased flow of water improves the chances of finding more metal.  
Some fortunate enough find jewellery, others collect screws, faucets and other recyclable metal items which can be sold for 85 cents a pound. That amounts to twice the minimum wage for an average trip.  Here are a couple of photos of mining and the lucky finds.
Mankind’s avarice  knows no bounds and perhaps they would  go to any depth in search of riches 
With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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