University of Memphis CAESER


Nambija Gold Mine - Ecuador


Client: Government of Ecuador
Project: Nambija gold mine - Ecuador

Project Background:

When you think of South American countries along the equator, you often imagine plenty of rain and lush rainforests. Ecuador is one such country with beautiful regions of mountainous rainforests, yet it also includes a stunning coastline and agricultural plains. During seasonal rains, waterfalls can be found gushing in the steep mountain ravines, shadowed by large fern trees.

Ecuador is rich in three natural resources: oil, silver and gold. There is a small village in southern Ecuador near Samora that is hidden away in the rainforest. It is called Nambija, and it sits on a mountain where villagers conduct artisanal mining for gold. Using mercury to amalgamate the gold, these villagers end up touching the mercury, eat it because it is in the soil, drink it because of the gold panning process, and breath it when acid is used to separate the mercury from the gold.

Project Objectives:

Recognizing the grave health implications of using mercury, the Ecuadorian government is looking to convert the Nambija mine into an open-pit mine that would eliminate the use of mercury and increase gold production yield by 200%. CAESER was asked by the Ministry of Mining to look into how best to move the village of Nambija (population 2000) to a better location and ensure that the villagers had:

  1. Adequate and clean water
  2. Uncontaminated soil for growing crops
  3. Available land for farming
  4. Available space for housing
  5. A school
  6. Transportation route to the mine with a travel time of less than 20 minutes
  7. Minimal likelihood of landslides at the village or along the transportation route
  8. Information about the move and the reasons for the move
  9. Opportunity to have their viewpoints and concerns heard
  10. Access to 3-phase electricity
  11. A sanitary sewer and treatment system

In addition, CAESER would be tasked in determining how to keep as much of the social fabric intact as many village relocations around the world fail because the social fabric is severely damaged.

Project Status & Deliverables:

Though the Ministry of Natural and Nonrenewable Resources did not execute this project, CAESER did perform some tasks in preparation. One task in particular was finding suitable locations for the Nambija relocation. Using GIS, CAESER was able to identify five areas that possibly met the criteria 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 from above. During CAESER's last visit to the Nambija area, we conducted field reconnaissance using ESRI's ArcPad® on a handheld device. It is hoped that this project will be executed by the Ministry and that CAESER will be able to help the Ecuadorian government help the villagers of Nambija.

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