In the midst of February's presidential elections in Ecuador, residents of the country’s third-largest city, Cuenca, voted to ban future mining projects in five water systems.
In a 7 February plebiscite, voters turned out to protect the region’s clean water resources. The area in which the ban covers is home to more than 580,000 residents and spans over 3,100 square kilometres of land.
The vote count showed that the motion to ban future mining projects received a landslide victory with each of the five questions on the ballot receiving almost 80 Percent support in favour of the ban.
The mining ban will have economic consequences for the South American nation, as Cuenca’s extensive reserves of gold, silver and copper have been a driver of foreign investment. According to Ecuador's Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, mining products accounts for 4.4 Percent of the country’s exports and are the sixth most exported product type.
Environmentalists and the city of Cuenca have long petitioned against the approval of mining projects near water sources, particularly two mining projects close to El Cajas National Reserve, the city’s largest water source, which are currently in exploration phase.
What remains unclear is how the results of the vote will be applied to mining projects that have already been granted approval prior to the referendum, with pro-mining unions and environmentalists debating what the “operational phase” refers to.
Ecuador's Constitutional Court is expected to release additional details of the ruling in April.