Environment is new battlefield

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JAIPUR: According to NGO Global Witness, 2015 was the worst year on record for environmentalists – at least 185 people struggling to protect their land, forests and rivers through peaceful actions were killed across 16 countries last year. This represents a 59% increase from 2014 and the highest toll on record.

The report said mining alone accounted for 42 deaths; agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging were also sites of violence, and since many of the murders occurred in remote villages in rainforests, the actual toll might be higher. Colombia, Peru and Philippines were the hardest-hit for mining activities, the report said.

About 40% of the victims were from communities of indigenous people with weak land rights, living in geographically isolated areas. These communities are particularly vulnerable to land grabbing for the exploitation of natural resources.
The website of Global Witness said, “The upsurge in mining activity has been coupled with weakening of regulations by governments eager to spur new mining investments, meaning riskier projects are approved that impact on communities. Land and environment defenders from these communities are being killed in record numbers for standing up to mining companies polluting their water sources, land grabbing and threatening their livelihoods. Too often affected communities are not being consulted on decisions that impact their environment and way of life.” The NGO also critiqued governments for promoting mining as part of developmental activity, although there is limited evidence showing that this sector benefits local people.

The report notes that in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, opposition to hydroelectric dam projects had resulted in murder. “Corruption plays a significant role in projects being approved and leading to conflict,” the report said, adding that hydroelectric dams continue to be built despite evidence that large scale dams are economically unviable, with vast cost overruns.

“Killing has become politically acceptable to achieve economic goals. I have never seen, working for the past 10 years in the Amazon, a situation so bad,” Felipe Milanez, former deputy editor of National Geographic, Brazil, is quoted as saying in the report.
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