Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
In Latin America, the natural resource extraction projects of oil and mining companies cause severe harm to the environment and health of nearby communities. Their adverse effects include the contamination of water, soil and air with heavy metals and other chemical elements like selenium, nickel, lead, cyanide or arsenic. These elements have been found in concentrations from 100 to 1,000 times the legally permitted amount. As a result, approximately 80 percent of the people that live in nearby communities possess one or more of the previously mentioned chemical elements in their blood, which causes a high rate of cancer and skin ailments, an increase of infant mortality and cases of congenital malformation. Besides direct scientific harm, the presence of extractive industries in rural areas can also yield severe trauma to the social fabric of these communities. Some sociological studies have shown that the rapid influx of male employees that typically accompany extractive projects can cause increases in alcoholism, violence and prostitution in the local community.
The communities that have lived on this land often for generations are powerless against these industries. They have neither the technical skills to measure negative health effects or environmental contamination nor the capabilities to defend themselves against catastrophes caused by inadequate regulation or careless administration. When emergencies provoked by poor management of resource extraction or dam construction strike, they do not have the means to safeguard their communities and manage the devastation.
Environmental and human rights CSOs that monitor extractive activities do not have the scientific support necessary to prove the harmfulness of these oil and mining megaprojects. Although the local civil society has sought to hold oil and mining companies accountable through lobbying, political negotiation and publicity campaigns, they have not been successful. Like the local communities, they tend to lack the necessary expertise, above all in scientific investigation, to prove the damage caused by industrial activities and make a cogent argument to the public. By way of example, of the 80 CSOs from Latin America that attended the World Alliance for Environmental Rights in Costa Rica in December 2010, none had scientific support to monitor extraction projects. CSOs cannot conduct the scientific studies proving environmental contamination or adverse health consequences, the latter through analysis of blood, fingernail and hair samples, because of the high fee charged to perform such and the requisite specialized training for their execution and analysis. Analysis of the presence of one metal in local water supplies costs approximately $35 dollars, and to guarantee statistical and scientific validity one must take ten samples from ten different locations. Even if they could afford these samples, they rarely can access them: there is a dearth of scientists working in the area, as they have few opportunities for academic funding to support a scientific career there.
Natural resource extraction projects are likely to grow in size and number over the coming years given the rising demand (and price) of raw materials, to the detriment of environment and community health. Since there is an insufficient amount of evidence to build strong legal cases that could prove the effects of resource extraction and force companies to mitigate their impact, though, the negative environmental and health effects caused by their work are unlikely to decrease.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Flaviano holds extractive industries accountable for their activities that are harmful to public welfare and the environment. He furnishes communities and environmental and human rights CSOs with the tools to evaluate the negative effects of mining, oil and dam construction projects. Armed with this evidence, the CSOs, with Flaviano’s guidance and partners, engage in lawsuits or negotiations with large resource extraction firms that damage the environment and health of the surrounding community members.
The CSOs that collaborate with Flaviano are not passive subjects; rather, they become active leaders in mobilizing their communities with clear scientific proof against the degradation wrought by the oil and mining companies. Flaviano first obtains scientific evidence to demonstrate the degree of contamination and adverse health effects that these industries generate. He performs environmental contamination studies and lab analyses of the affected population, normally costly technical procedures inaccessible to such communities. Then, the communities themselves join forces with Flaviano to carry out their own monitoring and acquire the necessary evidence of damages to community health. Although the communities cannot produce scientific studies themselves, Flaviano’s model helps train community members to take basic measurements that are later used in the scientific studies. Local representatives organize the trainings of CSOs. With this technical knowledge they helped produce, the citizens are better prepared to deal with emergencies or disasters and take on the corporations themselves.
Providing this type of evidence has empowered CSOs in several regions of Latin America. These CSOs have not only provoked significant changes in public policy to regulate the processes of the extractive industries, but they have also prompted recommendations from international organizations to reposition mines and relocate adversely affected communities. To date, Flaviano has implemented his methodology in Guatemala, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua and Argentina. He hopes to reproduce it in communities around the world that are exposed to harm caused by a mining, oil extraction or dam construction project, particularly in Asia and Africa.