"Dying of Thirst, Like Fish in the Sea": Syndemic Health Impacts and Environmental Risk Perceptions Associated with Mining among the Ch'orti' of Eastern Guatemala

Abstract / Resumen / Resumo

Metal mining is associated with negative social, political, economic, health, and environmental impacts. These individual impacts are generally understood, but a deeper understanding of the combined syndemic effects of mining, particularly in Indigenous communities, is needed, especially as metal mining is expected to grow with expansion of cleaner energy technologies. Perceptions of environmental risk and human health in Ch’orti’ communities of Olopa, Guatemala that have been impacted by the Cantera Los Manantiales antimony mine were examined via a community-based participatory research approach that included participatory mapping, interviews, and community mapping workshops. Results indicate increased violence and community divisions, increased incidence of health concerns, and an extensive loss of crops and domesticated animals following the introduction of mining operations. Furthermore, participants attributed both water and air contamination to the mine. We argue that our collective results present as a syndemic and represent a continuation of violence toward Indigenous people. Findings will support local leaders and allied research and legal organizations in efforts to effectively access justice and assess health in Indigenous communities impacted by the mine in Olopa. More broadly, this effort demonstrates how participatory mapping methods add nuance to the understanding of syndemics and other environmental health risks.