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Reblogged from pulitzercenter  48 notes


They call this place Diwalwal. It is Cebuano slang that literally means “tongues hanging out from exhaustion,” or the way that miners describe themselves after a long day’s work on the mountain. It is an apt name for this hardscrabble mining town on the steep slope of Mt. Diwata on the Philippine island of Mindanao.

The boom town, a vast sprawling collection of rickety shanties and tin-roofed shacks, is 30 years old and still going strong. It is also a dangerously contaminated place with so much mercury in the air and water that even government health workers sent to assess the situation have been poisoned.

Mt. Diwata, the “golden mountain,” is one of the largest sources of gold in the Philippines and possibly the world. (Diwata means nymph or fairy goddess, a throwback to the animist past when Filipinos believed diwata guarded mountains, rivers and streams.) Since the gold rush here began in the early 1980s, mines on the mountain have produced more than 2.7 million ounces of gold, according to government reports in the Philippine press. The Blacksmith Institute, which monitors mining around the world, estimates that $1.8 billion worth of gold remains in the ground. Large mining companies extract most of the gold, but the small-scale miners have their own 1,800-acre reserve with Diwalwal at its center.

At the height of the Mt. Diwata gold boom, more than 100,000 people lived and worked in Diwalwal. Today, the town is home to an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 miners and their families, including thousands of children, who are constantly breathing mercury fumes and dust from the ore processing that goes on all around them.

Drainage from the mines courses through the streets of Diwalwal nonstop, carrying mercury, cyanide and other toxic chemicals into the Naboc and Agusan River. The Blacksmith Instituted cited the gross mercury and cyanide contamination of these rivers when it named Diwalwal one of the most polluted mining sites in the world.

Read more from Pulitzer Center grantee Larry Price now.