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Interview: Emmanuel Peni, Coordinator of Project Sepik, Papua New Guinea

Emmanuel Peni says he has received death threats and been shot at for leading opposition to the Frieda river mine

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre 

Emmanuel Peni is the coordinator of Project Sepik (PS), the organisation of people fighting to stop the mining project called ‘Frieda River Project’ by the Australia-based and Chinese government owned company PanAust. The ‘Frieda River Project’ submitted an application for a mining license – the mine is planned to be developed in the Frieda river area. The mine’s tailings will be dammed and dumped into the Sepik River.

BHRRC: What is your name and what is your role as a business and human rights activist working to protect human rights in Sepik River, Papua New Guinea?

My name is Emmanuel Peni; everyone calls me Manu. I provide support to local leaders along the Sepik River and in Wewak—the voices behind the campaign to stop the mining.

BHRRC: Could you explain what business and human rights issues you are working on in connection with the Frieda River Project?

The Sepik River copper and gold mine is a project of PanAust, a Chinese company registered in Australia. The main issue for us is that we are not informed; we’re denied the facts. We have difficulty understanding the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is a very technical document with significant implications for the human rights of people in the Sepik River area. How can they say we have an informed consent? They can’t.

We just learned that the EIS doesn’t state that they were dumping arsenic into the river. With the new information, people are fearful. To put this in perspective, consider the case of the Chinese mining company, MSG, which mines nickel in Madang. 10 years ago, our communities along the river rose up and said no to the mine. The project went ahead anyway. This year there was a leakage in the deep sea bed waste disposal, and contaminants were discharged into the sea. In October, the provincial governor invited a Swiss company to come in and do independent testing; they said it’s so polluted, people should not eat anything from the sea. One person has died already from eating polluted fish.

After this happened, the PNG Environmental Protection Agency came with their own scientists, did tests and claimed there was no contamination. It was apparent for us then that the central authority is compromised. Nobody is standing up for the people along the coastline in Papua New Guinea. The fact that we cannot trust our own government is making the people become very angry; they’re just about ready to take the law into their own hands.

BHRRC: Why are local communities concerned about mining happening along the Sepik River?

Number one, we’ve looked around at mining in Papua New Guinea and in the world. We have heard, seen and read enough to know that no mining is safe, period. This is even truer again given our location. The Sepik River mine is situated in Zone One and Zone Two of the Ring of Fire. It’s a highly volatile zone. Every day there is movement in the Earth. You simply cannot safely build a mine on Zone One and Zone Two of the Ring of Fire.

Number two, there is land instability in the region, which is problematic. It will not hold a structure, but they’re proposing to build a dam on it—and then within the Ring of Fire on top of that. The area has very high rainfall on top of that again. People are afraid that PanAust will build a very bad dam, it will break, and there will be a big flood. It’s our view that they have been cutting corners.

Many mining companies promise roads, schools, bridges and other infrastructure projects. In the past we didn’t know much, so we said, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ Now communities are saying, wait a minute, that’s not your responsibility. You need to pay tax to the government, and they will give us the schools and the roads and the hospitals. Promising these things is a kind of trickery, a kind of bribery. They know that people need those things and they play on those needs.

Another concern is the legacy of mining at Ok Tedi. BHP, the Australian company, really destroyed that area. We don’t see Ok Tedi as just a Papua New Guinean mining disaster. It’s one of the world’s great mining disasters. The worst part is that, after 30 years, all the heavy metal has now moved from the lower end of the food chain, and now people are now presenting cases of heavy metal poisoning. If this is what the mining industry has done to us already, why would we let it happen again? We are not anti-development, but with this approach they are developing us into extinction.

BHRRC: Please tell us about the company’s public consultation process and any due diligence enquiries by the company that you, or communities, have been involved in.

Our main concerns revolve around consultations. The company talks down to us, like we don’t know anything. They pretend to listen to our concerns and our fears and then just tell us what they want to do. We feel that that kind of consultation they do is very tokenistic.

The preface to the EIS report for the mine is one example of why we have concerns. It says:

Any party reviewing this EIS report should perform its own risk assessment and should not rely on this EIS report’s identification or characterisation of risks… In some instances, Frieda River Limited has relied on data and other information and advice supplied by third party organisations… Except where specifically stated, no independent verification of those sources has been undertaken and where any opinion is expressed in this EIS report it is based on the assumptions and limitations mentioned herein and is an expression of present understanding and opinion only. No warranties or representations can be made as to the origin, validity, accuracy, completeness, currency or reliability of the information… Frieda River Limited does not have any obligation to advise any person if it becomes aware of any inaccuracy in, or omission from, any forecast or to update such forecast.

Why would they even bother releasing a report with a preface like that? It is a report, but it doesn’t mean anything. They don’t want to be legally challenged. A lot of people will not have legal minds. These things will just fly through and then when they come to court cases, this will become the basis for their legal challenge. That’s scary.

There are so many things that are not right. When you put all of this together you can’t talk about informed consent. What’s worse is that when they’ve done this, PanAust claims they have consulted the community and therefore they have consent to mine. We’ve been reminding them that consultation is not consent completely—particularly given their lack of transparency.

BHRRC: What challenges have you faced in your work, how are you seeking to overcome them? What has worked well? What has hindered your ability to achieve your goals?

From 2016 until October 15 of this year, I had four death threats. In 2010, I had two gunshots fired at me in a public place, one hundred metres from a police station. I’m still sort of recovering. The threat of violence hangs over us constantly.

It’s hard to find people that really care and want to do this passionately. You want to be there 24 hours a day, but people have to attend to their families, their communities, making money for their survival. Despite all of that, and on top of the continuing threats of violence, I’ve got really amazing volunteers with Project Sepik who are really present because the Sepik River means so much to them. Project Sepik is really fortunate to have these volunteers. They go out and do the work dealing at times with extreme obstacles—the threat of violence on them especially.

We have collected signatures from just the upper area of the Sepik River—more than 6000. This collective action gives us a voice. Before 2016, before our group had grown, there was no popular resistance to mining. We were not recorded in reports or research, so our needs and interests went unnoticed. What were our questions and concerns? Who knows? Our greatest frustration is with the company knowing that the people already say no. Why do they continue? What part of no means no to them?

You recently visited Australia to engage with the company. Tell us about this and what was achieved.

When I met with officers of PanAust I said, what part of no do you not understand? And I’m not just saying no, now here for me but when I say no, I represent everyone. I’m saying no today, just like people in the Sepik region have been saying no continuously. I asked the people at PanAust, where do you draw the line and say okay, the community response is definitely no? Nobody seemed to have any answer. I don’t know how they could not see it as a human rights violation where we say no and they’re still proceeding.

What positive goals are you trying to achieve in terms of mining operations along the Sepik River?

The volunteers with Project Sepik continue to build awareness and collect signatures for the petition. I think one of the best achievements of Project Sepik has been getting an audience amongst scientists, professionals and development specialists in Port Moresby—people in more of a position to influence attitudes and policy. They have a group and are drafting a position paper. Our position is that we will not participate in further consultations along the Sepik River unless the mining proposals change.

Our new task is to support the people to recover cultural traditions that can be empowering for local communities based on stated and unstated expectations, shared obligations and reciprocity where sharing of wealth, rather than private accumulation, was the emphasis. We’ll be looking to use different cultural strategies to say no and to continue to protect our river.

What needs to happen in your opinion for the human rights and environmental issues that you are working on in the Sepik River to be successfully resolved by PanAust?

The people of Sepik River are not going to meet PanAust halfway. The people are not going to sit and listen quietly to PanAust, while the company tells them what PanAust plans to do. PanAust needs to listen to the people of the Sepik River. If they don’t, the mine will destroy the Sepik River, and it will destroy our lives along with it.

What can be done by those reading this interview; is there any way in which the international community can help?

Australians can put pressure on their government to ask why a government-sponsored company of China is registered in the ASX, why PanAust can operate from Australia to destroy the Sepik River. Operating out of Australia, PanAust will be seen as an Australian company. What does that do for Australia’s reputation? What happens to that ‘Made in Australia’ brand? The destruction of our rivers and our life—made in Australia?

What are your key messages for advocates working on business and human rights issues in the Pacific – what are the key opportunities for bringing about change?

The Pacific, our oceans, the ocean floors, leftover rainforests and fresh systems and ecosystems are one of the last places where the rest of the world is going to in the race for resources. My message to the people of the Pacific is that we should stand together to defend ourselves from this mad rush. We should exercise our voices and act in solidarity, as one, not just for what the problems we face mean to us in our locality, but also for what these problems mean to the Pacific as a whole—for our Pacific families and our Pacific home.

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Saving the Sepik from Frieda mine

Rosa Koian | PNG Attitude | 10 December 2019

A photo posted on Facebook showing dried freshwater fish at Wewak market has sparked a discussion on the future of the Sepik River.

In the river’s headwaters, the Frieda copper and gold mine is pushing ahead with its development plans.

The Sepik is 1,100km long and empties into the Bismarck Sea. The river system’s 430,000 people use the river for food, education, transport, health and culture.

What they want is a truly holistic economic approach to development.

They believe that development must add value, not subtract from the people’s lives. Their river must be protected at all costs.

There was a strong response on Facebook from people wanting to ban the mine, the main argument being that mining will take away the people’s livelihoods.

“Sepik has always been sustaining us,” said Brian Singut. While another comment from Howard Sindana said, “It is our food source and supermarket. Sepik just gives.”

The East and West Sepik provincial governments are preparing to launch their biggest copper and gold mine but the people’s concerns are yet to be heard.

The people have many reasons to save this river, one of the richest, largest and last remaining unspoiled rivers in the Pacific.

In the Sepik river system, humans and nature have happily co-existed to this day.

As one commentator said: “It is a rich cultural and ecological storehouse; rich in stories of how a myriad of species and beings can exist in the same space without competition and hurting each other.”

The art and stories from the Sepik are unique. At the centre of them are the pukpuk and the hausman, depicting so much of the region’s culture and history.

Its strength, its sources of knowledge and wisdom, the artistic expression of the human and spiritual worlds, and always the promise of sustenance long into the future.

Until the present day western influences have intruded but slowly but now fears of fast moving change are real.

In the Sepik wetlands, crocodile farmers have reported earnings of more than K300,000 to their families in 2018.

The Sepik River provides food, game, material for handicrafts – all securing income for these people who know what it is to live at ease with nature.

Environmental groups have documented various flora and fauna and say the Sepik River and its basin is the second richest biodiversity region in Papua New Guinea.

The Upper Sepik is currently on the list to be recognised as a world heritage site.

Other people are concerned about the environment impact statement for the Frieda project.

In this very long document, they say, there is no clear mention of the direct impacts of mining and the appropriate mitigation measures in place if something goes wrong.

And three other large projects have been lumped into the same environment impact statement. The document is currently being reviewed.

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PanAust Meets With Regulatory Agencies In PNG

Artist’s impression of the proposed Sepik Development Project at Frieda River. Credit: PanAust

Post Courier | October 24, 2019

PanAust has successfully met with regulatory agencies in PNG regarding the independent peer review of the Sepik development project’s environmental impact statement (EIS) and dam integrity.

Before that, it has also established the Sepik development project website (www.friedariver.com) as a platform to share project information with all stakeholders. The website hosts fly through videos, factsheets and other project-specific information.

The Sepik development project’s environment impact statement was made publicly available on the project website ahead of the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) statutory awareness campaign, which has started in this month.

According to PanAust executive chairman Dr Qun Yang the company remains committed to working with the government to fulfill its statutory requirements and obtain the necessary permits to progress the project. He said CEPA confirmed independent consultants Hydrobiology will complete the independent peer review of the EIS. Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) will undertake a dam integrity assessment.

“A kick-off meeting was held in the Brisbane office, and a site visit undertaken with CEPA, Mineral Resources Authority (MRA), company representatives and the independent consultants during the quarter.

“The company continues to support its host communities in PNG with ongoing medical and education support,” he said.

Dr Qun said during the September quarter, the PanAust executive management team agreed on strategic objectives that will ensure the company’s continued growth and prosperity. “

Our new strategic direction is anchored around three key pillars,” he said. “First, we will work to sustain the business in the short term through the extension of mine life at our Phu Kham copper-gold and Ban Houayxai gold-silver operations. “Next, we will continue to actively seek out opportunities to acquire high quality operating and near-term development assets in Southeast Asia (preferably Laos) and progress exploration activities in Laos and Myanmar. “Finally, we will look to grow the business in the long term through the advancement of the Sepik Development Project.”

PanAust’s focus for the December quarter will be to deliver outstanding full-year production and cost outcomes, and on defining clear pathways to achieving its strategic objectives.

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Ambunti earthquake should be a wake up call to Frieda mine proponents

Damage from a February 2018 earthquake near Mendi. The earthquake killed more than 100 people. PHOTO: MELVIN LEVONGO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

5.6-magnitude quake hits 9 km NE of Ambunti, Papua New Guinea — USGS

Xinhua | March 7, 2019

An earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale jolted 9 km northeast of Ambunti, Papua New Guinea at 1847 GMT on Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The epicenter, with a depth of 132.36 km, was initially determined to be at 4.1824 degrees south latitude and 142.9124 degrees east longitude.

The Frieda River mine will be 70kms south of the Sepik River on the border of the Sanduan and East Sepik Provinces and some 500kms upriver from the coast.

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Spare Sepik River from pollution

The mighty Sepik river is under threat from toxic mine tailings and increased river traffic

MM Ondassa | Post Courier | 7 March 2019

The September 2018 signing of Frieda River mine project accord by PanAust – the developer and the landowner groups as reported in the other paper was good news for the government.

The Governor of West Sepik, Tony Wouwou said in part “… the accord committed all parties to ensuring peaceful and constructive cooperation”… and “… everyone must work together to resolve differences amicably and without disruption to the project …”.

Let’s hope they all remain committed to the terms of this accord.

I have three points to raise here. First is the issue that continues to raise eyebrows. It is about the ownership of the underground resources. Who owns the oil, gas and minerals on customary land? Is it the landowners, the government, or the developer?

The truth is; landowners own the land but not the underground resources. Why this is so, is because there are man-made laws that deny them full rights to their resources, hence they don’t get a fair share of the proceeds.

When the job is done, the developer packs up and leaves behind land and environmental completly reshaped. A change of law will certainly make a world of difference in favour of the landowner communities.

My second point is on the Sepik River. Governor Wouwou made no mention of a tailings dam, or Sepik River to be the passageway for the shipment of mineral ores, but said that a tailings pipeline would be built across the border in East Sepik.

The people of Angoram and Ambunti-Drekikir, whose survival depends on the pollutant-free Sepik River are denied their rights to discuss risks that Frieda mine pauses to the Sepik River. The simple villagers have no idea whatsoever on the imminent risks they are about to face.

Despite the ignorance, there is a real possibility of serious environmental impacts that Frieda River mine activity can cause, as there is no guarantee that what happened to Fly River and now the Ramu River won’t happen to the Sepik River.

I raised this very concern last year, which was supported by the environmental scientist Alphonse Roy, who presented some related factual information based on his two “early warning study proposals” which he presented to the Angoram district administrator and others, now locked away or trashed.

May I appeal once again to the developer is to meet and listen to the Sepik River leaders and get first hand information on how this river has been their lifeline for many generations? They want to know how prepared PanAust is, in terms of the provision of alternative water services, fish stock preservation and health services in communities along the Sepik River to mitigate the impacts brought on by intentional and accidental mine rejects.

Thirdly, can the government quickly confirm if PanAust has been taken over by the then major shareholder, Guangdong Rising Assets Management – a Chinese state-owned company? If so, they must make Sepik River the safest?

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The human cost of globalization

Barzil’s latest mining tragedy should be a wake-up call for citizens at both ends of the supply chain. Photograph: Douglas Magno/AFP/Getty Images

Eric Silverman | Metro West | 17 February 2019

Last month, a massive dam holding back a lake of waste from an iron ore mine collapsed in rural Brazil. The exact toll from the tsunami of metallic sludge is still unknown. At least 130 are confirmed dead but, as one elderly woman said, “It’s easier to count the living.” Hundreds remain missing. Some bodies will likely never be exhumed from the muck. Surely you heard about the disaster, expressed momentary horror, then went about your daily life as if such matters did not concern you. They do.

Like it or not, your hand – all of our hands – helped breach that dam. Those who benefit most from the global economy have equally global moral responsibility.

If you’re reading this newspaper in Massachusetts, glance outside your window. See any mines? Count yourself lucky. The largest such chasm in Boston was the Big Hole formerly occupied by Filene’s Basement. Actually, we’re not lucky at all, just rich. Most of us in MetroWest don’t want mining. We prefer other, far safer jobs, never mind backyards unblighted by large-scale resource extraction. And we have the affluence and power to make corporate and government leaders take heed. Not so the poor souls recently entombed in the mud.

Most Americans look to nature for rest and relaxation. We sojourn in the forest, like Thoreau, to “learn what it had to teach.” Others sell their woods and hills to survive. It is far better to be on the buying end of consumerism than the giving end of iron ore and other raw materials. Just ask the people of Vila Ferteco, the community downstream from the shattered dam.

Or ask anybody at the fringes of the world system. I know some of them well, having lived and studied as an anthropologist in a community along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. They have little political voice, less money, and no position of privilege that would cause corporate directors or public officials to take notice. That’s why their society is at risk from one of the largest gold and copper deposits in the Asia-Pacific region, the Frieda River mine, now under development by an Australian company, PanAust, which is a subsidiary of a Chinese government entity. Many people along the Sepik River are speaking out against this mine. Few seem to care or listen, especially shareholders and consumers on the other side of the world who will someday reap the lion’s share of the mine’s benefits.

There are few opportunities for a paycheck in the developing world, never mind a job that would pass muster by the workplace safety regulations that protect your own labor. More than 750 million people, mostly in the Global South, have less than a $1.90 a day in their pockets. What they have, however, are the natural resources – minerals, timber, oil, and gas – that are fed to factories in Nigeria, India, and Guangzhou, then shipped as the myriad products that arrive by Amazon on our doorsteps. It’s not so far from Bangladesh or Brumadinho to the local mall.

Nobody gives up their land because they find pleasure in open-pit mining. They do so because they have as much choice in the matter as they do clout in the boardroom or parliament. Corporations know this well, and so do as they please in distant places beneath the palm trees, at least those that remain standing after clearcutting for palm oil plantations. The end result is what just happened in Brazil.

The Global South is the resource Wal-Mart for the industrialized world, only with worse wages and no health care benefits.

The poisonous sludge that murdered a town last week came from a mine owned by a Brazilian company, Vale SA. The same firm, together with the Anglo-Australian giant BHP Billiton, owned another Brazilian mine where a collapsed dam killed more than a dozen in 2015. BHP Billiton once operated the Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea that discharged 90 million tons of waste into the local river system – about 500 square miles – for more than a decade. Half the river, reported The Australian Conservation Foundation, was “almost biologically dead.” The cultural survival of its indigenous communities remains at risk. Across the border in the Indonesian province of Papua, the U.S.-based company Freeport-McMoRan runs the world’s most profitable gold mine. Some of those profits, reported by The New York Times, went into the pockets of military and police officials to ‘secure’ the site.

Needless to say, major Western banks and investment firms, such as Vanguard, Blackrock, State Street, Fidelity, Citicorp, Bank of America, and John Hancock, pour assets into these mines, maybe even some of your own retirement funds, just as the mines pour their toxic waste down nearby hills and waterways.

There is no shortage of blame. Corrupt politicians. Greedy Wall Street financiers. Multinational corporations and the glossy PR firms they hire to promote ‘global citizenship.’ But most of the blame rests with you and I – everyday people content with our own lives and things, and thus unwilling to consider the human cost of globalization and to demand a more ethical capitalism. It’s time we did. Before another town in a far-flung place most of us can’t find on a map is buried beneath indifference.

Eric Silverman, a former Research Professor of Anthropology, lives in Framingham. He is now affiliated with the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandies University.

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Sepik people say no to Frieda River mine

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February 4, 2019 · 8:23 am

MP wants mines to learn from Ok Tedi’s history of pollution

Will the mighty Sepik River end up a “dead river” like her sister, the Fly?

The National aka The Loggers Times | February 1, 2019

NORTH Fly MP James Donald says the pollution of the Fly River by Ok Tedi mine should be a lesson for other mines in the country.

He called for a review of the Porgera Gold Mine because the mine was contributing to pollution.

Donald said with huge pollution issues facing the province, the experience of Ok Tedi and Fly River should be a lesson for other mines like the Frieda mine project whose operation can affect the Sepik River.

Donald said to put his grievance on record, the Conversation Environment Protection Agency (formerly the Department of Environment and Conservation) had been “very weak”.

He said record showed that issues of the people were never handled.

Donald said the people of Western were being affected by the activities of Ok Tedi and Porgera mines, therefore there was a need to review the Porgera mine operations because it was affecting the Fly River.

“People are really affected and how can you allow us to be affected by two mines like these? We have to review Porgera also because we are feeling the pain of the damage caused by the two mines,” he said.

NCD Governor Powes Parkop said dumping mine waste into the river system is only practised in PNG.

“No other country practises them, not even in the US, in Europe or Australia but here we allow that to happen. Are we less human in allowing mining companies to dump their sediments and waste into the river systems?

“We must continue to invest in tailing dams, we can‘t continue to dump tailings into the river.”

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MP Mirisim Supports No Fly-In-Fly-Out for Frieda mine

Matthew Vari | Post Courier | January 23, 2019

Member for Telefomin and Minister for Defence, Solan Mirisim has appealed to the Freida River project developers to seriously not take on the fly-in-fly-out arrangements for mine staff.
Mr Mirisim said this last week during a press conference held alongside Minister for National Planning and Yangoru-Saussia MP Richard Maru and Ambunti Drekikir MP Johnson Wapunai in Port Moresby regarding the Freida River project development.
“That also goes for Freida River project, there is no fly-in-fly-out, there is got to be a township so let the landowners and all the employers comes in to participate in the local economy and communities.
“So let me appeal to the company or developer that there should not be any fly in fly out and there has got to be a township.
“Township we have been planning for a big airport in Green River in the center where the township can be up to the Freida River project township.”Mr Mirisin’s district sits where the project is set to be developed, and his comments on the issue were made on the back of Minister Maru’s stance on the issue that no such arrangement is to take place for the Wafi-Golpu project in Morobe.“We are building a national airport there (Morobe) at the cost of K1.5 billion. It has a city of its own and it will be an anchor development that will complement the airport.“And Morobe and Lae already have the wharf and facilities and I really want to see that, and there cannot be any excuse as far as I am concerned.“Morobe and Papua New Guinea must get maximum benefit from the development of their resources,” Mr Maru commented on the Wafi Golpu project development.

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Landowner anger grows about continuing mining destruction

Peter S Kinjap | PNG Attitude | January 21, 2019

One of the world’s largest underdeveloped copper and gold deposits on the Frieda River, a tributary of the Sepik, is opposed by local indigenous landowners and all right-thinking Papua New Guineans.

The Frieda River deposit is thought to contain 13 million tonnes of copper and 20 million ounces of gold and tens of thousands of people fear the likelihood of serious river system contamination and the threat to the ecosystem that supports them.

A spokesman for environment group Project Sepik, Emmanuel Peni, said there was widespread opposition to the mine’s development plan.

“From Iniok village, which is where the barges and ships stop at the Frieda River, right down to the mouth of the Sepik, people are against the mine,” Peni said.

“They are concerned about possible contamination of the river system and the destruction of the environment along the Frieda and the Sepik River system.”

The East Sepik Provincial government and the national government had not yet responded to the concerns and grievances that have been raised.

Land in the Papua New Guinea context means the natural environment including land, rivers and seas.

In Madang Province, the landowners of Basamuk, Begesin, Ramu and Kurumbukari villages are affected by the Ramu nickel mine in various ways.  The Chinese state-owned mine has been polluting the beautiful coastal seas and people have been denied their food gardens and fishing waters.

In a recent documentary, ‘Uprooted’, the people clearly showed their pain about the river system contamination and the environmental destruction. They are fearful of losing their land to large scale development.

The deep sea tailings placement (DSTP) method of mine waste management and disposal which the Ramu mine proposed and was approved by the PNG government is causing a lot of environmental destruction and river contamination. 

“I belong to the government and the government belongs to me,” Martin Dampat, a Mindere landowner, said in the documentary. “How can it abandon me? It must do all that it can to ensure that I am able to feed myself.

“It has the ability to do so. But, if it chooses not to, then I know the government has no concern for me.  We have reached our limits. We have done all we can. They’ve rejected everything we’ve said.

“We feel we can’t do anything anymore. Some have given up trying,” he said.

“There is a great heaviness in all our hearts. I don’t think anyone can remove it from within us. We will go. But our grandchildren bear hardships even greater that what we’re experiencing.”

Another disgruntled landowner, John Oma from Ganglau Landowner Company, said: “They don’t have the land to grow their food. They won’t have an ocean to catch their fish.

“Where will they eat from? Nowhere. Great hardship awaits them. We won’ be able to avoid the troubles that will come. It’s the same sea. Life will be difficult for them too.”

And Sama Mellombo from the Pommern Land Group in Ramu said:

“It’s a fearful feeling when you think about the health effects on people and the inhabitants of the seas. If we take action now to tell China to find an alternative method, I think that’s the right approach. Find an alternative method instead of dumping waste into the sea. We live by the sea.”

Former Madang governor, Sir Arnold Amet, said:

“The government has endorsed the actual deep sea tailings deposit and an environmental plan. I think it is our assurance that the laying down of the pipe will not affect the lives of our people.  

“And the whole project has been signed and sealed by the national government and relevant agencies.”

A confused landowner from Ramu said:

“We hear that the minister has come. We hear that the member has come. We hear that the mine boss has come. But we’re confused. For the people here in Mindere and Ganglau, we feel like we’re about to die because we don’t have a Father. Our Father – the government – isn’t here.”

Bong Dampat, a mother and a Mindere villager, said:

“We fear for our children’s future. It’s going to be a long time. When waste dumped here, unborn children could be affected. The government and the company must pay attention. They cannot ignore us. What kind of a future will our children have? They have to pay attention.

“When a mining development contract allowed the Chinese to own and operate the mine, there was no concept of safety or environmental standards.  It was a cowboy operation. You did whatever you wanted and it didn’t matter if you were injured. It seems they came with a set of rules that didn’t comply with the rules of our country.”

“This is not a fight against development. No. That isn’t why we’re campaigning,” said Ramu landowner Michael Kasuk.

“We are fighting to protect and save our environment, our forests, our land, our river systems and our seas because our existence is connected to the land, forests, river systems and the sea,” Mr Kasuk said.

Peter S Kinjap is a freelance journalist, email pekinjap@gmail.com

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