Peru recently surpassed Colombia to become the top producer of pure cocaine in the world, but this South American country has a new illegal business, and it has nothing to do with drugs.
Rather, Perus new illicit business deals with mining one of the worlds most precious metals gold.
Peru is the worlds fifth biggest gold exporter, according to Fusion, yet 20 percent of the gold that was exported in 2013 was illegal.
The illegal prospectors that are mining and selling Peruvian gold arent entirely new to black market ventures. A new Univision Investigative report reveals that criminal organizations that are involved in drug trafficking have now expanded into the profitable gold industry.
There are signs that people engaged in criminal activities, like narco trafficking and terrorism are involved in illegal gold mining, said Tania Quispe, the Director of SUNAT, the Peruvian agency responsible for monitoring illicit gold mining.
Due to the soaring gold prices, criminal organizations and workers hoping to strike it rich have flocked to Perus Amazon, which has been hit drastically by the mining business.
Its no secret that the Amazon has been a longtime victim of clear-cutting for agriculture and climate change, but it has also been facing a surprising threat: gold mining.
Illegal mining is the second biggest cause of deforestation in Peru, according to NBC News.
While this illegal mining practice isnt new it has been going on for decades its recent surge in popularity has led to increased devastation in the Amazon and in the communities surrounding it.
In addition to destroying 230 square miles of forest in the Madre de Dios region over the past decade alone, illegal mining has also caused mercury levels in the nearby food and water to soar to dangerous levels.
People living in the Madre de Dios region have reported significant mercury poisoning in recent years.
Luis Fernandez, director of the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Project, explained that the high levels of mercury have devastating health effects.
What we have found through testing the hair of more than 1,000 people in Madre de Dios is that 76 percent of the population of Madre de Dios has mercury levels about the World Health Organization maximum limits, Fernandez said.
Although Perus rainforest has experienced significant environmental destruction over the past few decades deforestation accounts for around 40 percent of the countrys greenhouse gas emissions there is hope for the future.
Peru has vowed to end deforestation by 2021, and Norway pledged $300 million to help attain that goal.
In accordance with the deal with Norway, Peru will grant portions of the rainforest to native communities, who will be less likely to destroy the areas in which they live.
Norway believes that placing native communities in charge of the land will ultimately be more beneficial than relying on governments or private interest groups to protect the rainforest.
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