The Devastating Costs of the Amazon Gold Rush

Spurred by rising global demand for the metal, miners are destroying invaluable rainforest in Peru’s Amazon basin

To find flecks of gold, workers devour the rainforest floor with water cannons. "There are a lot of accidents," says one. "The sides of the hole can fall away, can crush you." (Ron Haviv / VII)
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“You said, ‘if nothing happens,’ you will go home. What do you mean?”

“Well,” Abel says, “there are a lot of accidents. The sides of the hole can fall away, can crush you.”

“Does this happen often?”

In the 30 or so pits here, Abel says, about four men die each week. On occasion, he adds, as many as seven have died in a single week. “Cave-ins at the edge of the hole are the things that take most men,” Abel says. “But also accidents. Things unexpected....” He lets the thought trail off. “Still, if you go slowly, it’s OK.”

“How much money can you make?”

“Usually,” he says, “about $70 to $120 a day. It depends.”

“And most people in your hometown, how much do they make?”

“In a month, about half of what I make in a day.”

Then he simply lies on his back in the mud, leans his head against the trunk of a felled tree, crosses his boots at the ankles and instantly goes to sleep, hands clasped over his chest.

A few feet away, a thick layer of sludge lies in the bottom of the pool. As workers prepare to separate gold from silt, the overseer of this particular pit, who is named Alipio, arrives. It’s 7:43 a.m. He will monitor the operation, to make sure that none of the gold in the pool is stolen by workers.

About Donovan Webster
Donovan Webster

Donovan Webster is a journalist and author. He writes from Charlottesville, Virginia.

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