Mining is in the blood of Bolivia. It is one of the country's oldest occupations and one of the only jobs available in some areas. It is also the country's greatest source of water pollution.
During the last two years I have documented this toxic relationship, photographing the lives of miners and the people affected by mining in the district of Oruro.
The Spanish began mineral extraction in Bolivia in the 1500's. Millions of slaves died in the mines as billions of dollars in minerals made their way abroad. Today Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. It has not benefited from its natural resources, a state of affairs commonly referred to as the resource curse.
Instead, Bolivian miners continue to struggle with poverty. Many work for cooperatives, paying for the right to enter the mines and keep what they find. Injuries are common and many miners develop silicosis, a permanent respiratory ailment.
Mining hurts the land. Lax environmental regulations lead to the dumping of pollutants and trash directly into rivers, contaminating lakes and fields. Communities near the Desaguadero and Huanuni rivers have lost animals, farmland, and drinking water as a result of toxic pollution. Part of Oruro was declared an emergency environmental zone because of the mines.
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I partnered with CORIDUP, a local NGO, to share my images and create a community dialogue in the Oruro community.
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