She said the main source of drinking water in the area, the Rancheria River, is contaminated and no longer able to sustain the local population, while the Bruno stream is under threat of being diverted by a mine expansion.
Air pollution from Cerrejón is also exacerbating respiratory illnesses among the highly vulnerable population and increasing the health risk posed by COVID-19, according to the application, which is seeking the intervention of UN special rapporteurs in Geneva.
“The pollution that the company has caused is massive – it’s contaminated the water, it affects the air,” Ms Feria-Tinta told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
“It’s detrimental to the health of any human being.”
Ms Feria-Tinta said the application on behalf of the communities was seeking the suspension of Cerrejon’s mining activities “in the current context” of the coronavirus crisis.
“It is also seeking that the UN organs declare that the indigenous Wayuu have a right to a healthy environment, to life, to water and to food,” she said.
“These are all fundamental rights currently threatened by the large-scale mining operations of Cerrejon.”
Cerrejón has previously denied that its operations have polluted the river and said it had robust air-quality control measures to ensure compliance with the country’s environmental standards.
Surrounding the coal mine, the rural communities in the La Guajira region are home to some of the poorest residents of Colombia. The indigenous Wayuu people among the most marginalised.
Cerrejón has invested tens of millions of dollars in social programs in recent years, focusing on areas including water and indigenous issues. BHP’s 2019 sustainability report said Cerrejón was increasing stakeholder engagement to “better understand the needs and concerns of local communities”.
BHP has previously signalled it is open to selling off its thermal coal assets, including its Mt Arthur coal mine in New South Wales and its holding in Cerrejón, as the company looks to reposition itself to a lower-carbon future.
Business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
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