Columbian and Brazilian authorities knocked down 19 illegal dredges for gold mining in the Amazon rainforest on 6 December, Reuters reported, citing Colombian armed forces.

These illegal dredges were allegedly producing around 23kg of gold worth nearly $1.5m every month, while polluting the rivers with mercury.

The mining activity was being conducted by a transnational criminal group called Familia del Norte.

Every month it was dumping 114,000g of mercury and polluted 68 million litres of water, the authorities said.

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By GlobalData

The bilateral operation was supported by the US and targeted the group’s infrastructure.

Reuters, quoting a press release from Colombia’s armed forces, stated that the operation “became a source of financing for weapons and explosives and the acquisition of chemical inputs by the criminal structure known as the Familia del Norte”.

Considered to be the most biodiverse countries, Brazil and Colombia’s landmasses are covered by the Amazon rainforest. The rainforest plays a crucial role in slowing down climate change by absorbing huge amounts of greenhouse gas.

The Colombian forces destroyed 12 vessels on its side on the Pure and Purete Rivers. These vessels were three-storeys high with engine rooms, sediment storage and accommodation.

On their side, the Brazilian authorities destroyed the remaining seven of the same vessels.

The news agency also quoted Colombia National Police director William Rene Salamanca as saying: “We are witnessing a historic bi-national operation against the illegal extraction of mineral deposits, aimed at protecting the lungs of the world.”

Earlier this year, the Guardian reported that as per Brazil Health Ministry data, the Yanomami health district had recorded nearly 80 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The data also revealed that the infant mortality rate increased by 16% since last year, which is seven times more than the country’s average.

The infant mortality rate among the Yanomami indigenous tribe had grown due to both legal and illegal mining.

It has been mainly attributed to an increase in mercury contamination and a rise in the cases of malaria. In 2022, malaria affected about 4,687 people, the highest number in a decade.

Additionally, several miners used mercury to separate gold from soil, which resulted in mercury contamination that was reported to be 8,600% higher than what is considered safe.