Saturday, February 08, 2014

No Silver Lining

Africa’s largest silver mine has been operating in the Atlas mountains since 1969, but the Berber people living in the surrounding villages remain among the most poverty-stricken people in Morocco. While Africa’s resources are historically usurped by international companies, the Imiter Mettalurgic Company operating the silver mine is mostly owned by Morocco’s royal family.

“The king forgot about us. He tours the country helping people, and he never comes to this region,” one woman told the New York Times. “He is our father, and he has forgotten about his children.”

Morocco’s Berbers are historically independent, organized and resilient, and once enjoyed a deeply entrenched system of water management that has been disrupted by international groups in recent years. The mine is said to have taken up to 66 percent of the water allocated in a special system to each village.

Since August, 2011, a group of activists from Imider, who call themselves Movement on the Road ’96, have been living in an occupation camp on Mount Alebban in order to protest the mine’s unreasonable water use and pollution. The group claims that the mine has used up more than their fair share of water, depleting aquifers that the agricultural communities in the area use for their terraced crops. Movement on the Road ’96 also claims that the toxic byproduct of the mining process, including cyanide and mercury used to treat the ore, has caused disease, killed livestock and exacerbated desertification. The group, which takes its name from a 1996 uprising that the government violently suppressed, is demanding that local employees should make up 75 percent of the total workforce.

“…even small plots at the foot of the mountain seem doomed to due to the shortage of water and poisons from the mine,” according to the Free Academy in Rome (LAR). LAR says that since operations began in 1969, very few infrastructural improvements have taken place. “At Imider there are no schools (except a small garrison basic), there is no electricity in most homes, the internet or even kiosks with newspapers, while the nearest hospital is located 200 km away (Ouarzazate).”

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