Dispatch from the Forum
January 23, 2007

The experience of peace, justice and ecology in America, a multi-ethnic continent
by Ana Bertha Mlambo, AFSC International Programs, Mozambique

Among those participating at the World Social Forum (WSF) are Franciscan Fathers and Sisters of the Catholic Church. They came to share their experiences living among the poor around the world. According to the values of their Patron, St. Francis of Assis, who gave up his wealthy family and home because of his love for plants, animals and of all people on earth, the Franciscans respect people, of all religions, all color and all creeds as well as the environment. For this reason it is their obligation to participate in finding a better world for their brothers and sisters including nature.

To show their love for nature and their fellow brothers and sisters around the world, this congregation is involved in different activities to maintain the well being and dignity of the people around the world. Examples of their activities include land issues in Brazil and contamination of water in Peru.

The involvement of the Franciscans in the Land Movement in Brazil
In Brazil most of the land is owned by the English, German, Spanish and French settlers and 1% of these owners detain about 46% of all the land in the country. 62% of the land is owned by the government but is idle whilst a large number of the population of Brazil has no land and is found living in tents in small areas. Current government policies have no effect on this problem.

With the help of the Franciscans and other organizations, peasant women and men created the Landless Movement. They work on land redistribution to those in need and to guaranty food security, education, reunification of families, rural employment and protection of the environment. This organization is autonomous and faces constant confrontation during the distribution of the land. One of the activities of the Franciscans is to bring together the people and facilitate the resolution of these conflicts, whilst maintaining the dignity of each person involved. Thus they serve all the people for a better future.

Contamination of water in Peru
The Franciscans also work on protecting the environment in Latin America. For example forty years in the Madre de Dios Region in Peru you could find crystal waters. Nowadays you will find muddy waters due to the heavy machinery used for the extraction of gold in the area. Since this activity is mainly done in the waters it is not only threatening Peru, but also Brazil and Bolivia as they all share the Amazon forest in South America. At the moment about 80km of the Amazon forest has become a desert and this is affecting the people living in that region as well as the rest of the world.

In 2005, twenty-five tons of gold was extracted and for each kg extracted 2kg of mercury is used. Therefore in that year, 50 tons of mercury contaminated the waters with dire consequences on the population that also consumes and uses these same waters. According to a study done by the ministry of health, the quantity of mercury in the waters exceeded the normal level. Since no one can live without water, when these waters are consumed they cause digestive alteration, eye and ear problems, mental disturbance, and alterations of the nervous system. These health problems continue to be misdiagnosed by clinics because no one thinks that the cause is contaminated water.

To address this issue, meetings are organized with the populations living in the cities and in the mining areas to sensitize them about the problems that mining activities cause them, the earth and the next generations to come. Another World is indeed Possible because now there are people monitoring and mapping the water sources. The results of these studies are that mining activities are now reduced in areas where water sources are being used by the people.

We also have this problem in Manica province in Mozambique and hearing this example from Peru gives me hope that we can also reduce contamination in our rivers.