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On last April 27, an international
team of representatives including from the Ghanian Wassa Association
of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) called on Newmont Mining,
the world's largest gold producer, to urgently reform its human
rights and environmental practices at its global operations and
to permanently cancel plans for new, open-pit mines on densely populated
farmland in Ghanaian forest reserves, in Romania, and on a mountain
in Peru that is a source of community drinking water.
Speaking at the company's annual shareholders meeting, representatives also from Indonesia, Peru, Romania, and Nevada demanded that Newmont fully respect human rights, stop intimidation of farmers, community members and individuals critical of its operations, and stop dumping mine wastes into the ocean.
Newmont has big plans in Ghana, which will be the fifth major centre with two advanced exploration projects, the Ahafo and Akyem projects, that led to the company’s entry into Africa and are the newest additions to its global operations.
The Ahafo project is located in the Brong-Ahafo region of Ghana which has twenty Forest Reserves covering a total area of 233,469 hectares. The project area is some 300 kilometres northwest of Accra between the towns of Kenyase and Ntotoroso. As currently designed, the project will implement open pit mine operations. For it to be accomplished some 500 families -3,000 villagers- in the Ahafo region of Ghana, are being displaced from their homes to make way for large industrial gold mines owned by Newmont and its partners.
The Akyem project is located in the eastern region, 130 kilometres northwest of Accra between the towns of New Abirem and Ntronang. It covers a forest reserve area that is home to rare species of plants and animals.
In 2004, the National Coalition of Civil Society Groups Against Mining in Ghana’s Forest Reserves had made a presentation to the Ghanaian media to present their stand against the government’s decision to open up the country’s remaining forest reserves to mining. They argued that “the net return of mineral wealth despite the significant foreign inflow into the sector is very doubtful viewed against environmental destruction, the level of offshore retention, human rights violations, and the limited access large-scale surface mining offer to community livelihood. Given the inadequacy of the national policy framework to address these issues we as a nation are recording net losses in the mining sector”.
The Coalition, formed by several organizations including WACAM, Third World Network-Africa (TWN-Africa), Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL), Friends of the Earth-Ghana (FOE-Ghana), League of Environmental Journalist, Food First International and Action Network (FIAN), had stressed that “We believe that the country’s natural resources are relevant only when they are used for the benefit of its people. Government has the responsibility through national and international laws to ensure that extractive activity serves this purpose. On no account must extractive activity be carried out in a manner that subordinates the people’s livelihoods, dignity, and the diversity of the environment to that of corporate interest”.
Article based on information from:
“Communities Urge Gold Miner Newmont to Reform”, Indonesian
Forum for Environment (WALHI) and Friends of the Earth Indonesia,
27 Apr 2005, http://www.eng.walhi.or.id/kampanye/tambang/buanglimbah/050427_urge_nmr-agm_mr/;
“National Coalition Of Civil Society Groups Against Mining
In Ghana’s Forest Reserves, a presentation to the Ghanaian
media”, 2004, http://www.bicusa.org/bicusa/issues/Coalition_press_statement_March04.pdf
Some 2.000 members of Ogiek Community in Enoosupukia region of Narok District were asked to move from the area under warning that “any person found to be inside the trust land area shall be evicted/arrested". With clashes within Kenya's fractious ruling coalition, the Lands and Housing Minister, cancelled all Title deeds issued in the Mau forest, apparently determined to evict more than 100,000 people living in the forest.
The eviction plan takes place in a complex situation. In 2001, the previous Kanu Government degazetted huge tracts of land and in its haste to allocate the land, it never bothered to degazette the forests, to legalise the allocations, giving the present National Rainbow Coalition government room to justify the evictions.
The eviction is widely seen as a scheme to discourage the Ogiek community who have been living there for centuries. The affected families have been rendered homeless and are presently camping at a local church without food and shelter.
As for the Ogiek, they stress that “there is not one Ogiek in the Kenyan parliament, which fostered and allowed and still permits that the land and the forests and the peace of the Ogiek are torn apart!”
"Tensions are high with the Ogiek situation worsening day after day given that the affected families are not even allowed access to water outside the church as torching and demolition of houses goes on" said Kimaiyo Towett, Ogiek Welfare Council National Coordinator. Local sources further indicate that the affected families who have nowhere to go are facing starvation since all their crops and personal belongings were destroyed.
The Ogiek have suffered eviction, persecution, harassment, intimidation, death threats and even murder. The elder Mr. Willa was murdered in his home at Mariashoni, shortly after the Ogiek had completed Civic Education, which culminated in "Ogiek Position in the constitutional review process". The elder is captured on video as calling on the government to protect the rights of the Ogiek people and give them back their land. That was his last statement. The Police has conducted no action or investigation. Now, the Ogiek Welfare Council fears for the life of Mr. J.K. Towett, Chairman of the OWC and co-chairman of the Ogiek Peoples National Assembly (OPNA), after receiving death threats on his cell phone from unknown persons to him. This has continued since the beginning of this year and the same situation aggravated when Towet filed a suit in Nakuru High Court against the government of Kenya to safeguard and protect the Ogiek peoples land.
The Ogiek denounce that “environmental concerns are pushed by the para-green helpers of the corporate military-industrial complex, which mainly battle for the water resources, the timber and potential land for tea or carbon-sequestration scams, blindfolding even human rights organizations in the same way as unscrupulous politicians mastermind squatters and settlers as their front soldiers, their flag -or vote- bearer and their land-grabbers. It is an outright governance induced guerilla warfare with international complacency against the Ogiek”.
“WWF, UN, private local and foreign farming ventures as well as corporate interests (e.g. of global water companies) and even the Government of Tanzania pressed the Kenyan Parliament to go for brainless general evictions of people from forests, not taking into consideration the plight of the aboriginal inhabitants, the Ogiek, who in their traditional ways have been the stewards of the Mau forest since many hundreds of years and its best conservator”, say the Ogiek.
Article based on information from:
“Kenyan ministers' row over 'grabbed' forest land deepens
divisions in Narc”,
Threats Against Ogiek Leader Joseph K. Towett”, http://www.ogiek.org/news/news-post-05-04-1.htm#05.04.2005,
sent by Ecoterra International, E-mail: MailHub@ecoterra.net
The Liberian NGO Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU) has conducted an inquiry into the Firestone Rubber Plantation Company's 69 years of operation, and the result is the report “Firestone: The Mark Of Slavery” (to see the full report: http://www.samfu.org/firestone.html).
Firestone’s plantation - established in 1926- is amongst the world's largest rubber plantations. The area it now covers --a coastal low-land, interspersed with marshes, creeks and streams-- was originally owned and inhabited by the Mamba Bassa tribes who were evicted from there by the Firestone Plantations Company and the Government of Liberia during the signing of concession agreement without benefits to these local inhabitants.
Firestone has been joined by Bridgestone as a partner in its operations. Since the inception of this company, it has produced billions of tons of dry rubber and latex but, according to the report, has not been able to establish any factory to manufacture some of its products into finished products.
The inquiry exposes the dire working and living conditions of the bulk of the company’s labor force. Firestone has a workforce of about 14,000. Approximately 70% are labourers (tappers) who are mostly illiterate and unskilled Liberians. The lack of employment for unskilled labourers in Liberia, and the inability of the Liberian government, past and present, to monitor the activities of the Company have given rise to the abuse of labourers and the poor working and living conditions they have to endure.
Most laborers and their families live in single room units, in over-crowded camps which may host up to fifty families, but with ten bathrooms and latrines. They have no access to safe drinking water and electricity. Employees complained of poor health care delivery system saying that they are not properly attended to, which often leads to permanent disabilities.
Most of the children of the labourers at the plantation are not attending school because of its absence at most of the Company's camps, and the quest of most parents to allow their children assist them to complete their daily task. Children, who are successful to have primary school in their camps, are learning under poor conditions as the schools are substandard with poor facilities.
There appears to be no environmental standards for the company operations as evidenced by the lack of a solid waste management or disposal system. Large volumes of chemical rubbers are dumped in the open. Chemical waste from the factory goes through a sewage line and eventually empties into the Farmington River, which is used by inhabitants of adjoining communities, for bathing, washing and other house-hold chores.
The report ends with a set of recommendations, including that Firestone Plantation Company take immediate steps to improve the living and working conditions of the tappers; take steps to outlaw the use of child labour on the plantation; cleans up the solid waste that has accumulated in its plantation over the years as well as the polluted creeks and the Farmington river.
SAMFU also demands the Liberian government to conduct an immediate environmental impact assessment in the concessions and instruct the company to improve the working and living conditions of its employees; compel it to comply with international labour standards and principles; and request it to begin manufacturing finished products for domestic consumption and export.
In its report, SAMFU also calls on international human rights organizations and consumers of Firestone rubber to pressure Firestone to take steps to address the issues highlighted in the report or stop buying their product on the international market until reforms are put into place.
Large scale monoculture tree plantations have been imposed globally, erasing other ecosystems, changing water patterns, eroding the soil, creating poverty. Within a project of the South African NGO Geasphere to examine such impacts on rural people’s livelihoods and culture in the Province of Mpumalanga, Godfrey Silaule conveys a vivid picture of how people from the Graskop community suffer such distortion:
“Firstly I would like to pass my greatest sympathy to the family of Ma-Nyathi whom I interviewed in my first visit in the area; unfortunately I could not get her whole story recorded in full, but one can take note of her words when she said that if her area had not been turned into timber land, she would still be going strong from the riches of the traditional medicines and emantuli (traditional fruits) that were removed to make way for those timber plantations. Her heart was visibly worried about all the changes she had seen so far. She passionately talked of the past as if she was reliving it. She told of the forced removals of her family to make way for eucalyptus and pine trees and how her brothers and husband struggled to make ends meet from the low income that they received working in that industry.
As though she knew that her days were numbered she talked about her visit to her people’s graveyard in the area from where they were removed while she was still young, and about the changes that had been brought by plantations in those areas. The rivers and slopes were now obviously dry and wetlands had disappeared. She was visibly moved to note that her father’s one time garden had turned into shallow gravel after all the top soil and its nutrients were washed away by rain. This obviously has no meaning compared to what the shareholders consider hard-earned profit, but for people like myself and Ma-Nyathi huge questions must be asked on what will happen if this persists in the next 20 years: will our children and grandchildren be able to claim that the fruit they are eating is a real product of the soil’s nutrients?
Her daughter who welcomed me and gave me the sad news of her death told me how her mother had urged her to bury her among her ancestral graves because of the calmness of the forest and the forever bird songs that she heard on her last visit with me. She then told me that her mother, a one time herd girl, once told her that people used to survive without money but with all the fruit borne by our traditional forest. She insisted that her mother had no power to voice her dislike of mono culture but she hoped that I would be able to bring the attention that was needed, especially to both government and large scale mono producers who constantly rape our nutritious soil every day in the name of profit maximisation. May her spirit rest in peace.”
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