From South Africa to South America, illegal mining is a global issue. For example, as part of a nationwide crackdown on Peru's illicit gold mining, about 1,500 police and troops dynamited heavy machinery that has ravaged the southeastern jungle region and poisoned rivers in the Madre de Dios region.
The surprise operation on April 28 came 10 days after Peru issued a nationwide ban on illegal mining, marking the first action the government has taken on the recent problem. Police blew up generators and water pumps, destroying equipment that amounted to roughly $20 million. It included 45 big motors used to suck water from rivers, 15 backhoes and nine dredges, according to The Associated Press.
The illegal machinery was located in Huepetuhe. All mining in rivers is illegal in Peru, the authorities said. There are an estimated 40,000 illegal miners, most of whom are poor migrants from the Andean highlands, working near the Interoceanic Highway that connects the Pacific Ocean with Brazil. They use tons of mercury to bind the gold bits they dig up and have destroyed the biodiverse region that is also home to secluded tribes. Illegal mining accounts for nearly one-fifth of Peru's gold exports.
On top of demolishing the equipment in Huepetuhe, the government has confiscated illegal gold at domestic airports and blown up illegal gold refirners in the coastal cities of Nazca and Chala.
"In the course of this week there will be strikes," said Luis Otzuka, president of Fedemin, which represents the informal miners. "The government is clearing out the mining corridor. The idea is to do away with mining in Madre de Dios."
The real problem, explained Daniel Urresti, a former army general who ran the surprise offensive, stems not from the workers dwelling underground, but from the 50 or so people financing the whole illegal operation.
Urresti understands that money is a major concern for daylong workers, and to compensate them, he said the government will soon announce an investment of $35 million in public work projects in ecotourism, agriculture and other areas.
For the remaining legal mines, it's crucial to prevent leaks and spills that may further harm the ecologically rich Madre de Dios region. Applying load sensors, equipment reliability and strain gauge instrumentation can help avoid such problems.