Peru has deployed drones to some of the country's remote areas to track illegal mining, but using the information to capture and make cases against illegal miners is a challenge.
Residents of Madre de Dios, a region of the Amazonian rainforest that borders Brazil and Bolivia, have increasingly begun flying drones to collect evidence on illegal mining.
This video, as well as satellite imaging, has been turned over to Peru's special prosecutor on environmental affairs (Fiscalía Especializada en Materia Ambiental -- FEMA) to open investigations, according to a report by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP).
The use of drones was facilitated as part of a comprehensive monitoring project promoted in 2016 by experts from the Association for the Conservation of the Amazon Basin (ACCA). The project’s focus is on providing residents with the necessary tools to effectively collaborate in the fight against illegal mining and logging.
The Madre de Dios region is the epicenter of Peru's illegal mining and logging crisis. Between 2009 and 2017, more than 64,000 hectares of the Amazon rainforest were destroyed in the region.
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Drones have certainly improved data gathering against illegal mining over large areas where direct access is difficult or dangerous.
Before adopting the use of drones, local residents patrolled on foot to gather data, running the risk of attack by criminal groups, according to an investigation published by El Comercio.
“Now we avoid immediate run-ins with the offenders, who often become aggressive and could physically harm us,” a local resident told El Comercio.
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One major challenge is the lack of coordination between authorities and the locals gathering data. Firstly, prosecutors are struggling to corroborate the information provided to them, since the illegal miners may have moved on by the time a location is visited. This makes filing charges very difficult.
“Ultimately, we arrive to a location, that is generally remote, […] and we do not find a single person, so then we have an attribution issue because we cannot prove who has been or who are those responsible for the incidents,” Karina Garay, FEMA's provincial prosecutor in Madre de Dios, told El Comercio.
But Garay explained that the information is still useful for documenting criminal patterns.
And that explains the current limitations of drones. For now, they serve as a good documentation tool without which authorities would work blindly.
But the use of drones itself, and the data they gather, will not be enough without being part of a long-term, comprehensive policing strategy.