Social conflict on the wane? Report suggests not

18 December 2017

The latest six-monthly report from the Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros has just been published, its twenty-first. It draws on the regular data produced by the Defensoría del Pueblo (the Ombusman’s office) and embeds it in a structural analysis of 60 pages.

Conflicts have levelled off in the last few months, but the report argues that this is principally due to the fall off in concessions, now once again rising as commodity prices recover. With the fall in mineral prices after 2014, extractive industries gave priority to the expansion of existing capacity. This caused less contention with local communities than new projects. And, as the report suggests, some social organisations have been holding back, awaiting the results of the regional and municipal elections due in 2018.

Socio-environmental conflicts still dominate. They represent 72% of the total and, of these, nearly two-thirds relate to mining. There appears to have been a shift in the geographical distribution of mining conflict. Ancash now tops the list, with 27 conflicts (p20), 16 of them active and eleven latent. It has overtaken several southern departments. Rio Blanco in Piura is one that has returned from latent to active status, and needs to be watched (p25).

The last 40 pages of the report go through each macro-region with a full summary of all ongoing conflicts, supplementing the Defensoría material with local reporting.

The report usefully resumes other elements that challenge the idea that conflict in the mining sector may be 'healthily' in decline. In particular it summarises recent changes weakening the regulations concerning Environmental Impact Appraisals.

A second key reflection concerns the recent savage attack by the Sociedad Nacional de Minería, Petroleo y Energía (SNMPE) on the whole notion of a 'head' or cabecera of a river basin as an object of public policy given its role in the conservation of water.

In Peru the head waters are crucial to the conservation of clean water. This led, in 2009, to the passage of Law 30640, restricting mining in such areas. However, the National Water Authority (ANA) has so far failed to move (as required by the law) to define the notion of a cabecera and the law still lacks the detailed regulations needed to make it enforceable. The SNMPE has tried to make out that the cabecera is a 'poetic' not an academic concept, and one impossible to define.

None of this is a new discussion, but the report draws it together in a useful way.

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