Thu, Aug 20, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Environments, communities are destroyed
as governments protect mining industry

An EU-funded report reveals how the global mining boom spreads pollution and violence worldwide, linking mining and militarization

By John Vidal  /  The Observer

Illustration: Mountain People

A 61m-deep pit gapes where three years ago stood a mountain, fields where small farmers planted rice and grew fruit are now an industrial site and wooden houses in the old village of Didipio have been abandoned — the community moved to make way for a large-scale gold mine owned by a New Zealand company.

The Filipino mine, guarded by high fences and bitterly contested by the indigenous Ilongots who fear pollution, spills and ill health, is just one of scores of major new gold and copper mines opened in the last few years to meet soaring world demand for minerals used in electronic devices such as smartphones and laptops.

While the spot price of gold and other minerals has recently seen its greatest annual decline in more than 30 years, the legacy of the global mineral boom is social conflict, human rights violations and environmental devastation across Asia, Latin America and Africa, a global investigation into hundreds of the world’s mineral mines said.

As angry communities in Colorado counted the cost of a toxic spill on Aug. 5 from an old gold mine, a new atlas of 600 international mining and oil companies has identified more than 1,500 ongoing conflicts raging over water, land, spills, pollution, ill health, relocations, waste, land grabs, floods and falling water levels.

The EU-funded report by academics at 23 universities and environmental justice groups in Africa, India and Latin America has identified 142 disputes involving gold mines, 130 at coal mines, 96 at copper mines and 73 at silver mines, with India, Colombia, Nigeria, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and the Philippines having the most. They ranged from longstanding legal disputes to armed conflicts.

The companies whose mines have attracted the most accusations of human rights abuses and environmental conflict are some of the largest in the world, mostly listed on the London stock exchange. They include AngloGold Ashanti, Rio Tinto, Barrick Gold, BHP Billiton, Glencore Xstrata and Newmont Mining. Between them they are involved in 75 conflicts in countries ranging from Colombia, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the US, Zambia and the Philippines, the report said.

“Across Latin America, Asia and Africa, more and more community lands, rivers and ecosystems are being despoiled and devoured by mining activities,” said Philippe Sibaud, author of two reports on the extractive industries for the Gaia Foundation. “The rights of farming and indigenous communities are increasingly ignored in the race to grab land and water. The hunger for these materials is a growing threat to the necessities for life.”

In many cases, governments have had to call on the army to defend the mining companies against aggrieved local communities who have taken up arms.

“Much of the Philippines has now been militarized to defend the companies,” said Benedictine nun Sister Stella Matutina, a community worker in Mindanao province who has been targeted by the government for opposing mining companies.

In the past year she has been charged with kidnapping, human trafficking and illegal detention for opposing Canadian, Australian and British mining companies and for looking after tribal people displaced by mining.

Mining in the Philippines has exploded from only 17 operations in 1997 to nearly 50 mega-mines today.

“We have found that mining divides our people, it kills them, it does not help us. It destroys our values. Mining and militarization are twins. Where there is big mining, there is always militarization, because the government has to ensure that foreigners can invest in our country. People are resisting, are taking up arms against the entry of these mining companies. We are killing each other over mining,” she said.

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