La Rinconada, Peru – Twenty years ago La Rinconada – said to be the highest human settlement in the world – was a quiet rural village in Peru’s Andes mountains.
But the discovery of gold quickly changed La Rinconada during the 1990s. It is now a crowded place where thousands of poor people from all over South America come to look for opportunity.
It is now a chaotic, overcrowded town of nearly 50,000 inhabitants that lacks many basic social services. The increase in the price of gold, which has increased more than 300 percent in the past decade. Many of the miners are women, called pallaqueras, who select stones from the mine dumps.
Today, the landscape in La Rinconada is full of metallic shelters built without official permits. There is no pavement, sewers or running water. Many people who live there struggle with alcoholism, drugs and crime. The police presence is minimal and illegal prostitution is prevalent. The use of mercury to separate gold from rock has caused pollution and illness.