Bougainville starts process to reopen controversial Panguna mine | Environment News

The controversial Panguna mine, derelict more than 30 years after civil war broke out on the remote islands of Bougainville – is now a autonomous region about 300,000 people in eastern Papua New Guinea (PNG) – are expected to revive to support the region’s plans to become a nation.

The Bougainville Autonomous Government has secured an agreement with local landowners to move forward with a plan to reopen a vast open-pit copper mine in the central mountains of Bougainville Island, at the heart of a decades-long conflict. The century between Bougainville and PNG is over. in 2001.

“Today marks the end and the beginning of a new chapter, a chapter to realize the independence of Bougainville,” Bougainville President Ishmael Toroama said in a public statement following the February agreement with the leaders of the local clans.

For almost 20 years until 1989, Panguna was under the control of the global mining giant Rio Tinto and a source of anger for the local community, who are concerned about its environmental impact and most of the revenue has gone into the pockets of Rio Tinto and PNG.

“Overall, the resolution calls for the transparent participation of both parties in the mine reopening process. For me personally, as a landowner, I support development, but development must be seen as upholding and respecting basic human rights and our indigenous rights, “Peter Arwin, a landowner in Panguna, told Al Jazeera.

For many years, there has been considerable outcry against the return of foreign miners from communities that continue to live with pollution from mine waste and who suffer brutality and pain. wounded in the conflict. For a region struggling with post-war recovery, the massive cost of rebuilding the mine, estimated at $5-6 billion, can only be met by a foreign investor. . Rio Tinto abandoned its interest in the mine in 2016 and still no new partner has been selected.

Schoolgirls in light blue uniforms play among the ruined buildings of the panguna mine
Schoolgirls play among the ruined buildings of the Panguna mine in Central Bougainville [Catherine Wilson/Al Jazeera]

But they were shaken by the government’s argument that the revival of the mine, estimated to hold up to 5.3 million tons of copper and 19.3 million ounces of gold, was imperative for the Bougainville bank. independent dreamwon overwhelming support in a referendum held three years ago.

Bougainville’s economy remains weak as the government remains financially dependent on PNG and international aid donors. Meanwhile, its people continued to struggle. Bougainville has one hospital and 35 medical centers of varying sizes for a population of 300,000, while the maternal mortality rate is estimated to be up to three times higher than in PNG, which is already among the worst worst in the world with 230 deaths for every 100,000 live births.

About 40 percent of the population is under the age of 15.

“Signing the understanding of the five clans, especially the Panguna mine owners, is the path towards the reopening of the Panguna mine in order to maintain the political will,” said Theresa Jaintong, president of the Association of Landlords. land of Arawa, Siokatei and Loloho in Arawa, about 12 km from Panguna, told Al Jazeera. “The signing of the agreement represents harmony, peace and support for the government and landowners who are about to reopen the mine.”

‘Anti-bad exploit’

Arawa, the town closest to the mine with a current population of more than 38,000, has been deeply affected by mining activity and conflict. The town’s buildings, services, and infrastructure were razed during the civil war, and reconstruction was slow.

In PNG, more than 80% of the land is owned by Indigenous clans, who have significant influence on public and commercial development projects. These rights have been strengthened at Bougainville by a new mining law, enacted in 2015 that recognizes indigenous ownership of the land’s mineral resources according to custom and owner involvement. land in major decisions about their mining.

The main factors contributing to the conflict, which erupted from 1989 until the cease-fire in 1998, included the exclusion of local landowners from mining-related decisions, and discontent over the intervention of Foreign into the administration and economics of Bougainville since the late 19th century, the growing environmental dirt from mine waste and most of its revenue claims by Rio Tinto and PNG.

Barbara Tanne, president of the Bougainville Women’s Federation, said it is important that a future mine contributes to peace as well as prosperity in the region.

“As president of the Bougainville Women’s Federation, I want to say that maybe this agreement will be respected and applied to everyone. Women need to maintain the status quo as landowners by continuing to reflect [on the past]have peaceful dialogues with landlord groups and ensure peace and stability is rooted in them,” she stressed.

Women in traditional dress gather at a polling station to vote in the independence referendum
Bougainville residents gather to vote in the 2019 independence referendum, officials say reopening the mine is important for Bougainville’s independence to be sustainable. [File: Ness Kerton/AFP]

Much work needs to be done before the Panguna mine can be reopened.

Bougainville’s Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Rodney Osioco, is adamant that preparations for mining development in the area will be rigorously implemented at every stage to ensure the rights of the islanders, equitable distribution of the interests of the mine and peace and stability are guaranteed. The government plans to strengthen the law and regulatory framework, while any future investors in the mine will be decided in consultation with the landowners.

“Resolving grievances and issues surrounding the distribution of benefits should be of primary importance and must be done in a more transparent approach. [than in the past]. Then the issue of land ownership also needs to be addressed through proper social mapping processes,” Arwin told Al Jazeera.

Gavin Mudd, associate professor of environmental engineering at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, believes addressing unresolved issues from the mine’s past, such as environmental damage and claims usually, is very important.

“The people of Bougainville have never been anti-mining, they are anti-mining badly and there is a long way to go until we are really close to addressing the historic heritage,” he said.

Toxic risk

How to dispose of environmental waste from the mine, which has never stopped working, is a priority of the villagers. For example, rivers near the mines have been contaminated with toxic heavy metals, such as copper, zinc and mercury, which have poisoned the water, destroyed fish populations and posed a significant risk to the environment. human health.

“Contaminated water from the mines flows into the local rivers unabated… The chemical pollution of the rivers is compounded by continued erosion from the vast mounds of tailings produced by the company. down into the Jaba River valley. With each heavy rain, huge amounts of tailed ore sand are washed into rivers, flooding vast lands downstream with contaminated mud; relocate villages, pollute water sources and destroy new areas of forest and farmland,” Melbourne-based Center for Human Rights Law (HRLC), which assisted in the remediation process that began last year, reported in 2020.

In initial discussions with local communities and stakeholders in Bougainville, with support from HRLC, Rio Tinto agreed to an expert assessment of the mine’s environmental and human rights impacts.

In any future operations, it is certain that waste treatment methods will have to change. One key option, according to Mudd, is to build a tailings dam, a dam built specifically to store water and mining by-products. “We build tailings dams better than we did 50 years ago, but it will take a long time. They are huge and expensive structures,” he explained.

The polluted river near the mine has turned a brilliant turquoise color
Local rivers and streams near the Panguna mine are still heavily polluted with copper deposits and waste from the mine’s old operations between 1972 and 1989. [Catherine Wilson/Al Jazeera]

The cost of rebuilding the mine from its current ruins is estimated at 5-6 billion dollars. Time will depend on a lot of variables, but Mudd estimates that reconstruction “could take up to a decade or more”.

This time around, the people of the islands were wiser about the realities and potential pitfalls of resource extraction, especially when land was central to their culture.

“In our Melanesian society, having no land means I have no value in the community,” says Arwin, emphasizing the need for government to ensure the community’s needs are properly met. .

He was mindful of the difficult balancing act Bougainville was trying to pull off.

“I know that, at the end of the mining life, this will become a barren wasteland covered with rock, where there will be no further monetary gain,” he said. “But the reality is that our future generations will live further away.”

Source link


News5h: Update the world's latest breaking news online of the day, breaking news, politics, society today, international mainstream news .Updated news 24/7: Entertainment, the World everyday world. Hot news, images, video clips that are updated quickly and reliably

Related Articles

Back to top button