‘Essential Step’ Towards Addressing Poisonous Legacy of Big Mine

MELBOURNE, Australia — An impartial investigation will start on Tuesday into the environmental and human rights impression of an deserted gold and copper mine in Papua New Guinea that residents say has been poisoning their water, flooding their lands and placing their livelihoods in danger.


In 2020, 156 residents of Bougainville, an island in an autonomous area of the nation, accused the mining big Rio Tinto of human rights and environmental violations associated to what they mentioned was its failure to scrub up tens of millions of tons of waste on the mine, Panguna, which closed greater than three a long time in the past.

Working with the Human Rights Legislation Heart in Australia, the residents filed a human rights criticism with a nonjudicial physique in Australia that has the facility to research complaints made in opposition to Australian firms working abroad, and referred to as for an investigation by the Australian authorities. (The mine was established throughout a interval of Australian colonial administration of Papua New Guinea.)

Final 12 months, Rio Tinto mentioned it might fund an impartial impression evaluation in response to the criticism. The residents celebrated the launch of the primary section of that evaluation, on Tuesday, as a promising begin, although it was famous that Rio Tinto has dedicated to paying for the impression evaluation however not remediation.

“This is a vital step in the direction of addressing insecurity and ache for the folks within the impacted group areas,” Theonila Roka Matbob, a landowner from Makosi Village in Bougainville and a member of Bougainville’s Parliament, mentioned in an announcement launched by the Human Rights Legislation Heart.

“We’re at all times worrying that the meals we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe shouldn’t be protected,” mentioned Matbob, who’s in an impacted space. “We fear about levees collapsing and mine waste flooding our lands and communities.”

As soon as one of many greatest and most worthwhile copper and gold mines on the earth and a serious financial driver for Papua New Guinea, Panguna was operated by Bougainville Copper Restricted, an Australian subsidiary of Rio Tinto, a multinational firm.

Locals frightened in regards to the mine’s environmental injury and felt that the earnings have been distributed unequally, with the Papua New Guinea mainland reaping the advantages, whereas these on the island have been left to cope with its impression.

Tensions over the mine have been a contributing think about Bougainville’s independence motion, which continues to this present day, and protests by locals led to the closing of the mine in 1989 and a decade-long civil battle.

Throughout its operation, the mine launched over 1,000,000 tons of waste merchandise into the close by rivers, mentioned Keren Adams, the authorized director of the Human Rights Legislation Heart. Over time, that waste has eroded into close by rivers that residents depend upon for ingesting, farming and fishing, she mentioned.

The Human Rights Legislation Heart visited communities the place “mine waste has flooded all the close by creeks that they use for amassing ingesting water, and the groundwater sources,” she mentioned. “Because of this, persons are having to stroll for a number of hours to fetch water from different, farther away sources.”

The evaluation can be performed by the impartial environmental firm Tetra Tech Coffey and overseen by a committee consisting of group leaders, landowners, Papua New Guinea authorities representatives, the Human Rights Legislation Heart and representatives from Rio Tinto.

Its first section, which is predicted to take 18 months, will have a look at probably the most acute dangers posed by the mine, significantly people who could pose a hazard to folks’s well being and security, like contamination of water sources and stability of getting old mine infrastructure.

It is going to contain interviews with locals and technical examinations like checking the soundness of levies and sampling water sources, mentioned Ms. Adams, and can pave the best way for additional investigations and discussions about options.

“This may assist determine the issues, however, finally, Rio Tinto must decide to funding the options in order that communities can dwell on their land in security,” she mentioned.

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