On a recent chilly night, Brahim Udawd gazed from the top of a hill at a brightly lit mine below. “That’s the curse plaguing our land,” he said, pointing to the Imider mine. “It was discovered in the seventh century. I don’t think life here changed much since those medieval times.”
The Imider mine, on the eastern slopes of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, is the world’s seventh biggest producer of silver. For the communities around it, some of the most impoverished in the country, it is the biggest source of income within a 450km radius.
But instead of welcoming the mine, many local people resent it as a symbol of how Morocco’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a privileged few, while the rest of the population live in poverty.
Hundreds of villagers from the Imider area were angry enough so that in August they cut off the flow from a well which supplies water to the mine. Since then they have camped on the hilltop by the well to make sure it is not turned back on.
The drop in water supply caused the mine a 40 percent loss of processing capacity. Shares of developer Imiter Metallurgical Company (Société Métallurgique d’Imiter) (SMI) fell 15 percent from their peak this year on the Casablanca bourse after it announced the protest’s impact.