As part of a collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, special correspondent Steve Sapienza reports on the destructive lure of gold in remote areas of Peru. In southeastern Peru, where the Andes Mountains meet the Amazon lies one of the world's richest ecosystems.
Roughly the size of California, the Madre de Dios region not only attracts tourists, but also those trying to cash in on this region's abundant natural resources. Rampant illegal gold mining has authorities here scrambling to protect the Amazon's last untouched tracts of rain forest. At stake are countless rare plant and animal species and the sanctity of indigenous tribes, some still living in self-imposed isolation.
Rising gold prices and the near-complete Brazil-Peru Interoceanic Highway have combined to propel fortune hunters deeper and deeper into the Amazon. A few hundred miners first settled along the new highway in 2007. Now dozens of ramshackle mining towns line the road, catering to every need and desire of the miners. Close to 30,000 people tied to mining activity now call the region home, with more arriving daily.
In the region's capital, Puerto Maldonado, recent efforts by local officials to halt illegal mining have been met with violence.
In an attempt to combat the violence Gov. Jose Luis Aguirre wants Peru's president, Ollanta Humala, to declare a state of emergency in Madre de Dios in order to receive federal troops and funds to deal with the negative impacts of illegal gold mining.
"The problem with the mining is that it brings other problems along with it. It brings human trafficking, child exploitation. It also brings many cases of sexually transmitted diseases. It brings criminality. These problems exist because these areas are no-man's-land." Gov. Jose Luis Aguirre (through translator)
"We notified the authorities so they could take action because it was affecting the condition of the forest and of the area. And, regrettably, here we are in 2011, and things have gone up 1000 percent." Landowner, Alfredo Vracko (through translator)
1. What part of the world is Peru?
2. What type of resources do people mine?
3. What is a rainforest? Why types of species can be found there?
1. Why do you think people participate in illegal mining?
2. What do you think are some of the environmental concerns with illegal mining?
3. Name 3 ways the Peruvian government can halt the illegal mining industry.