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Luz Ángela Uriana Epiayu with her son, Moisés Daniel. Photo: Bianca Bauer via Coal Action Network.
Luz Ángela Uriana Epiayu with her son, Moisés Daniel. Photo: Bianca Bauer via Coal Action Network.
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  • The Cerrejón coal mine, owned by BHP Billiton. Photo: Bianca Bauer.
    The Cerrejón coal mine, owned by BHP Billiton. Photo: Bianca Bauer.

RWE npower, Colombian coal is killing our children! Close Aberthaw!

Luz Ángela Uriana Epiayu

16th February 2017

The coal power station at Aberthaw is not just polluting much of South Wales with its filthy emissions. It could also be seriously damaging the health of children in Colombia with coal dust from BHP Billiton's massive Cerrejón coal mine. In this open letter, Luz Ángela Uriana Epiayu implores RWE npower to shut down its stinking, obsolete and illegal power station.

Because of the coal dust created by Cerrejón, Moisés gets this dry cough. He needs clean air in his lungs. That's why it is hard for him to breathe, he breathes contaminated air twenty-four hours a day.

Dear Paul Coffey, CEO of RWE npower, owner of Aberthaw power station.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Luz Ángela Uriana Epiayu. I live in the indigenous Wayúu reservation Provincial, which is in North Eastern Colombia, in the department of La Guajira.

I am writing to ask that you do not increase imports of coal from Colombia to your Aberthaw power station in South Wales but instead close the power station down.

I know that the European Court of Justice has ruled against the UK government allowing Aberthaw to emit high levels of nitrogen oxides, which damages the health of people downwind of the power station.

The solution to this health problem is not to substitute the Welsh coal currently burnt at the power station with coal from Colombia, which pollutes our health - but to close the power station!

Our children are suffering. Some have died

My son Moisés Daniel is sick with a high fever and a dry cough, and he is having trouble breathing. This started when he was about six months old. He is still only three years old.

I live very close the Cerrejón coal mine, hardly a kilometre and a half away; we are so, so close. Because of the coal dust created by Cerrejón, Moisés gets this dry cough. He needs clean air in his lungs. That's why it is hard for him to breathe, he breathes contaminated air twenty-four hours a day.

Even for those of us who don't suffer any effects, we can still smell the coal. Every day I wonder how he must feel, he's just a tiny little boy. He is not the only child in my family affected. Last year, a girl of just eight months died because of the coal dust that caked her lungs.

Cerrejón says that it adheres to Colombian laws for pollution levels. This is true, but it doesn't mean much. Colombian laws allow sulphur oxides at a concentration of 250 micrograms per cubic metre, yet the World Health Organisation recommends that 20 micrograms per cubic metre is the maximum. This level is often broken by Cerrejón.

Why should our children die so Europeans can produce dirty electricity? 72% of the coal mined in Colombia is burnt in Europe. In 2015 the UK imported 20 million tonnes of coal for power stations, 41% of this from Russia and 37% from Colombia. Here, our communities suffer.

We will not be paid off by bribes and inducements!

I am not able to stand by and let this happen to my children or the people in this area. When I took Moisés to the doctors they recommended that we leave the reservation because of the environmental contamination.

I had to fight with the public health company and the doctors, because it is hard to be referred to a specialist. I pleaded with them and with Cerrejón to help me; I asked for an appointment with the specialist doctors, with the paediatrician and for the money for the medicines we needed. But no one offered to help.

So I had to take a case to the Colombian justice system. I asked them to reduce the pollution from the mine, which is all over my house, my reservation, for the sake of my son's health.

Then, a representative from Cerrejón came to my house saying it would pay for my son's health care and offered my husband a job, but only on the condition that I dropped my claim. I couldn't drop the claim because we all need to breathe clean air and you can´t buy the life of a child.

The company must change the way it operates so that it does not pollute so much. The mine has been here for 40 years and yet there has never been an independent investigation into the health impacts that the mine is having on our tribe. We do not know the full extent of the health problems it creates.

I am a human rights defender and I am not only defending the rights of my children, but of the children in all of La Guajira. In the hope that they can grow up in a healthy environment and that they will have opportunities in their lives.

Victory in the courts - but nothing has changed!

The rulings went in Moisés' favour. The judges decided that there was an imminent risk to his health and his rights. They ordered the Cerrejón coal company, the health provider and the Colombian environmental authorities, to provide him with adequate health care and make a plan which guarantees that he can continue living in our reservation.

The rulings have gone in my son's favour. But nothing has changed. I am demanding that Cerrejón reduces the pollution, but the pollution will remain if you decide to buy coal from Cerrejón.

Recently I came to London to denounce the impacts of having a coal mine as our neighbour. I spoke at the BHP Billiton AGM - they along with Glencore and Anglo-American own the Cerrejón coal mine. It was horrible to be there and to try to talk to them. Why don't they listen to us? Will you listen to us? The situation here makes our lives very hard. Our territory is rich in coal but after 40 years of the Cerrejón mine the area is very, very poor.

So I am asking you not to increase the consumption of imported coal. For the sake of the children living in my reservation please do not encourage more extraction. Wherever coal is mined there are health impacts on the local population, be that from Colombian, Russian or Welsh coal.

Please consider this and close Aberthaw power station, rather than add to the erosion of the health and traditions of the communities living near coal mines.

In peace,

Luz Ángela Uriana Epiayu.

 


 

Luz Angela Uriana Epiayu is an Indigenous environmental activist and defender of children's and Indigenous rights in Colombia's northeastern Guajira department, where her community suffers the impacts of one of the largest open-pit coal mines in the world. She is mother to six children, and one of her sons, Moises Daniel, suffers from respiratory problems the family attributes to air pollution emanating from the coal mine. Uriana's activism is driven by her desire to see the Cerrejon coal mine, owned in part by BHP Billiton, shut down. Uriana has been nominated as a finalist for Colombia's 2016 National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights. This bionote is from TelesurfTV.

 

 

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