The quiet pace of life in the Barroso region awarded with World Agricultural Heritage status for its landscape, traditions, biodiversity, environment and preserved habitats

Lithium wars: passionate citizens’ battle moves into European spotlight

Just as the ecological battle to reduce intensive farming in southern Portugal gets noticed abroad, the citizens’ fight to halt plans for a large open-pit lithium mine in Covas do Barroso has moved into international newspapers.

Deutsche Welle started the ball rolling last week (click here), and its article has now been widely syndicated throughout the world.

Meantime Spanish eco-online ‘el salto alto’ has carried an interview with one of the leading figures behind the larger campaign to ensure no mining projects are sanctioned for the area (click here).

The bottom line is the warning that in sitting back and letting the government “turn the country into a big player when it comes to lithium mining”, the country will actually see Portugal adding to CO2 emissions while destroying vast tracts of agricultural heritage landscape; ruining lives and livelihoods; poisoning groundwater and devastating ecosystems.

All in the name of “profit”, explain citizens whose social media buzz this week is being powered by the newly-won public exposure.

Last weekend in Serbia thousands of protestors turned out in force against a plan for a mega lithium extraction project near the Jadar river which even the environmental impact study commissioned by the mining company concerned concluded should not be constructed because it would cause “irreparable damage to the biosphere”.

Events like these have fuelled determination of communities around Covas do Barroso which are ‘corralled’ by various mining plans (click here).

Catarina Alves, one of the leading lights in the campaign has told el salto alto online that one of the obstacles in getting the truth across to people has been a “brutal misinformation campaign in the press and television promoted by the Savannah Resources mining company which wants to pass itself off as socially responsible”.

In Covas there is no doubt, all the people know the mine will have a great negative impact, they are completely opposed to the process, they know that the people will have to leave. (Savannah) don’t want facilities, they don’t want farmers to become miners. Land use will change. Everything will change, the water, the livestock. The mine will be bad for us. Noise will be heard all the time, (Savannah) will destroy the territory: the mine will be 40 meters from the nearest houses — in the case of the Borralha mine— or 200 meters —in the case of the mine planned for Covas do Barroso. In addition, we will have to resist daily explosions and see heaps (of excavated material) almost 200 meters high…”

Deutsche Welle has also focused on the ecological damage, interviewing activist and local producer Nelson Gomes, who explains: “The whole landscape and its ecological balance will be destroyed”. 

The paper explains: “Portugal’s government, however, is pointing to the big picture. Three years ago, it adopted a multibillion-euro national lithium strategy. It keeps dreaming of a Gigafactory and a refinery for processing lithium ore”… but whether this will actually happen is “uncertain…”

This is the aspect that is less present in Portuguese media reports: the serious doubt that the government really WILL get the lithium refinery it keeps talking about (click here): “the odds are the profitable processing of the raw material will happen abroad”, Nuno Forner of ZERO tells DW..

For now, all reports concede that “the Portuguese government expects work on the mine(s) to start as early as next year, arguing that natural resources are a common good and some sacrifices have to be made”.

Activists intent on saving their hills and valleys are in no mood for sacrifices however. Nelson Gomes tells DW, the fight against the mine will continue “with all means if need be”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com