MEDIO ATRATO, 15 February 2019 - Colombia, an extraordinarily diverse country in terms of wildlife and ecosystems, relies largely on the exploitation of natural resources. As one of the major gold producers in Latin America, artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM) is a widespread practice in the nation and generates approximately 40 tons of gold annually.
Large deposits of gold are sometimes located in remote zones of the country. The rampant informality combined with the socioeconomic characteristics of some regions of Colombia has led to the expansion of illegal activities in the ASGM while at the same time, the unregulated use of mercury and cyanide has poisoned water and wildlife.
The Department of Chocó, located in the north-western part of the country, is considered to be one of the zones with the highest rate of illegal and informal artisanal gold mining operations.
In the month of February, a delegation led by the UNIDO Field Office in Colombia and accompanied by members of the Delegation of the European Union to Colombia and international experts on ASGM travelled to the Medio Atrato, a rural municipality located in Chocó. The objective of the field trip was to gather information on the current situation of the artisanal and small scale gold mining practices in the area in order to develop a baseline scenario for a forthcoming project currently being developed by UNIDO.
The project will pay attention to the reduction of the negative social and environmental impacts of ASGM, through the empowerment of the local communities. This will be achieved through the combination of three interventions: establishment of good environmental and social practices in the ASGM sector, with a focus on mercury reduction; development of alternative sources of income and the achievement of a better natural resource management by the local authorities and communities.