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Too little land, too much conflict

Mining communities continue to disagree over the use of sparse land

Mining activity, for years now, has been an issue of serious environmental dispute to the communities it affects – particularly in developing countries. Once land is used for mining activity, it becomes unusable for many other large industries in resource rich developing countries, such as farming and forestry. Particularly Impacting communities in developing countries, largely due to a lack of governmental regulation and structure in the face of such projects. Although conflict resolution strategies have been attempted to address this long standing issue, it seems as though, community consultation; coordination of governments; compensation packages and working partnerships between large and small scale miners, is what’s required, but hardly done successfully.

Despite the gloom and doom, there is a lot to be said about mining creating economic growth within communities. In Canada, mining accounts for approximately 15% of national exports and 4-5% GDP, with 340,000 Canadians gained high paying employment due to the works. Similarly, is the case in Zambia, with 20% accounting for GDP, 90% of export earnings, and 15% of the country’s workforce in mining.
 
With figures like these it is hard to see what is so troublesome about land use for mining activity, however, the issue lies in the way that the implementation of large scale mining projects often causes an unwilling relocation or resettlement of the present communities. This can impair the freedom of movement they are accustomed to, and consequently force them to alter things that are customary to their cultures and traditions. As well as this it can cause environmental damage to their homeland, in the form of removing large tracks of forest, and contamination, chemical spillage collapses of tailing dams and heavy metals leaching. Alongside this is the further threat of foreign disease entering their communities, through foreign persons entering. Castro & Nielson have commented the situation can be, “severe and debilitating, resulting in violence, resource degradation, the undermining of livelihoods and the uprooting of communities.”

Alongside the conflicting wishes of the people and the projects, are the projects and other industries. Land is scarce, and whilst miners are fighting for it, farmers and ranchers want a piece of the pie too. This is highly fuelled by these operations continual conduct outside of the law, making it harder to assess and regulate. As well as this are the clashes between small scale and large scale miners themselves as both parties tend to fight for land in the regions, fuelling conflicts between communities at all levels in the region. Small scale miners are unwilling to let go of the land due to unwillingness to relocate as well as strong cultural ties to the areas, rooted in their ancestry. Although licensing systems have been implemented for small scale miners, it is not organised enough and often results in a ‘double booking’ of land for small scale miners on large scale mining projects’ land. This has resulted in a multitude of violent clashes between the two parties, only serving to destroy the land further. This is exemplified in the case of Ghana where disputes have caused productive land to disappear, with 1.05% of cropland and 1.26% of forest cover lost to desertification, industrialization and urbanisation, every year.

A recurrent theme though out the issue of land use in mining communities is the social implications versus the financial gains. A clear example of this, is the negative cultural impact that new projects can have on aboriginal and indigenous communities, and the monetary compensation they may be offered to subdue this. Land being using for mining in indigenous areas, impairs self-determination to the land, their right to peacefully maintain their culture (the land being a historical part of this), as well as threats to their traditional knowledge of the area. This is often tackled monetarily, by offering compensation. As in Goldfields’, Ghana’s Tarkwa mine where compensation for those affected included housing, improved sanitation facilities, compensation for crops, efficient storm water drainage and an allowance of US$1000. However, sometimes this economic boost does not rectify the cultural losses these people experience.

BHP’s activity in Ok Tadi Mine in Papua New Guinea is an example that encompasses many of the problems discussed. Although outputs from the mine account for at least 16% of annual export earnings and 10% of national GDP, it has also destroyed 1000km2 of virgin natural rainforest as well as water pollution due to chemical residue decreasing fish populations. This highly affected the Wopkaimin communities in the region, and left many of them displaced. Although the community chose to surrender small areas of land for money, much lobbying had to be done to ensure they received adequate treatment in this situation. BHP settled in a US$6.6 million compensation fee, however a package of US$56 million was initially promised. Promises being unfulfilled are the key reason for unresolved land use mining conflicts.

The only resolution to this highly neglected issue is to ensure that residents in the communities are kept informed of mining on goings through visits to mines, surveys, partnerships in industries, liaising with the community and provided public communities, so that there is a stronger interaction between the community, and the company. Finally, compensation needs to go beyond monetary measures, because it cannot make up for cultural losses, this can be done by providing natural resources to replace those lost, improving communities’ skills and employment prospects and encouraging local hire to ensure economic prosperity centres around the community the land mine affects. This will require increased communication, consultation and cooperation, on behalf of the government, the companies and the communities.

However, for as long as these issues remain in developing countries, the desperation to enjoy potential economic contributions from these mining projects, will always force these communities to have to consider a loss of their culture and land for a gain in their wallets.