Part of our History: The earth our home - in San Marcos and San Juan de Iscos, Peru


Little sister Chiara writes from San Juan de Iscos, in the central Cordilleras of Peru:

Chiara with friendsChiara with friends

Our community is at an altitude of 3200 meters (almost 10,000 ft) in the beautiful Mantaro valley. It is one of the country's biggest valleys, producing a large part of the food sold in the markets of Lima.

Here also the problem of environmental contamination is particularly acute. For some time, the Mantaro river has been totally polluted, which has serious consequences for the health of the people and the quality of agricultural production. Mining and metallurgical activity has developed there, and the foundries spew out impressive quantities of fumes and toxic mining wastes.

The businesses responsible for this environmental disaster take no responsibility for repairing the damage they cause. They take no measures to avoid (or even curb) pollution. The worst is that the government lets them carry on, even though they know that in their home countries these companies would be legally obliged to install technology limiting their impact on the environment.

In the La Oroya Mining Center they not only process metal they take from the ground locally, but also metals shipped in from other countries that don't want it processed on their own soil because it would be too dangerous. Thus, La Oroya has become one of the ten most polluted cities on the planet. Ninety percent of the children have very high levels of lead in their blood, which affects their physical and mental development. The problem is not confined to the area around La Oroya, but extends through the whole valley, where thousands of farmers irrigate their crops with water from the river.

In the face of this extemely worrisome problem within our Archdiocese, the Church, under the leadership of Bishop Pedro Barreto SJ, has taken a strong stand in favour of Creation and human life. We are happy to see our Bishop on the front line in this urgent struggle. Despite the threats he receives, he goes forward courageously in the conviction that faith in the God of Life obliges the Church to become actively involved in this issue.

He set up a Dialogue Commission made up of representatives from civil society and political parties, from both Catholic and Evangelical churches, to seek together for ways to solve the problem. The diocese also launched a project called 'Mantaro Comes Back to Life,' where a team of experts and volunteers work to combat pollution and serve the populations most severely affected by it. And there are other organizations working to protect the environment.

I've been able to attend several meetings and workshops for farmers on 'agro-ecology.' They're seeking ways to reduce and eliminate, if possible the use of dangerous chemicals. They also encourage people to collect and recycle packaging materials that contain toxic substances and which often wind up on the ground and in irrigation canals. It seems like such a small thing! Drops in the ocean... but they are small steps in the right direction, which, with patience and perseverance, can bear fruit. As Bishop Pedro tells us:

'All of us are responsible for this House we share - the future of the Earth depends on us!'