Tag Archives: Ok Tedi

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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Environmental audit set for mines: Pundari

Ok Tedi. Photo by Glen Barry/Greenpeace.

Don’t hold your breath, CEPA and its predecessor, DEC, have been asleep for decades…

Luke Kama | The National aka The Loggers Times | February 4, 2019
MINISTER for Environment Conservation and Climate Change John Pundari says an independent environmental audit on Ok Tedi mine in the Western, Porgera in Enga and Ramu Nickel in Madang will be undertaken this year.
Pundari said this in Parliament on Thursday when responding to a series of questions raised by Gulf Governor Chris Haiveta on the new Ok Tedi Environment Management Bill (OTEMB) that was passed by Parliament on Wednesday, and pollution caused by the Ok Tedi Mine to Fly River and the surrounding environment.
“The Ok Tedi Environment Management Bill was crucial to regulate the Ok Tedi mine, which is in its advanced state of operation, to protect the environment and the livelihood of local communities,” he said.
“The mine will be issued an environment permit under Section 13 of the Ok Tedi Environment Management Act (OTEMA).
“That enables the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (Cepa) to require the company to carry out periodic monitoring of the river systems to ensure that the environmental values defined in the permit are maintained.”
Pundari said any new activity that would take place outside the areas covered under the would be regulated through the Environment Act 2000.
“These activities are considered new activities and would require full environment impact assessment to be done on the proposed activity, before a decision is made under the Environment Act 2000,” he said.
Pundari said with respect to concerns on pollution in the Gulf of Papua, and other environmental concerns, Cepa would undertake an independent audit of Ok Tedi this year.
“Cepa will undertake an independent audit of the Ok Tedi mine this year, as it is necessary to determine the state of the environment, particularly with respect to the defined environmental values,” he said.
“Cepa will also conduct an independent environmental audit into Porgera mine, as the mine life comes to a closure, and as well for the Ramu Nickel Mine with report made to the public.”
Pundari said the audit would also assist to determine the areas of focus and future areas of environmental management and monitoring.

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Who benefits from the exploitation of our natural resources?

Lester Seri

Last week the Sepik River People published a Public Announcement Advertisement, making clear their stand, “Ban Frieda River Mine”.  This is a repeat of their previous announcements to ban the mine.

Interesting to note that the Governor of the East Sepik Province rightly seem to be responsible and cautious by allowing for proper consultation and hearing everyone out in order to take a collective decision, but there are other MPs that seem to want the process fast tracked and give the green light for the mine development to take place quickly.

One wonders why the rush considering the enormity of the mining tasks involved of the planned project, the rugged geographical setting, and the likely social and environmental implications that might  arise out of it affecting the multitude of the people in the area, as we have seen in the other mines such as, Ok Tedi, Pogera, and Bougainville to name a few?

It seems like we have never learnt any lessons from these other mine projects to do a better job in order to minimize social and environmental impacts while improving on just and equitable sharing and distribution of the benefits from the proceeds of the mineral exports?

For whatever number of years that Ok Tedi and Pogera Mines have been in operation and the billions of revenue these mines have generated, it is beyond belief that little if any has change in the lives of the landowners and the surrounding communities, I mean basic necessities such as improved income,  electricity, water supply, hausik and medicines, schools, and better constructed road network, and business opportunities for the people in the region. How does one explain this real hard reality situation that we are experiencing in Papua New Guinea, after 42 years of political independence and billions of dollars of revenue generated?

The same could be said about our people on Bougainville Island, after how many years of the Panguna Mine and the many many millions of Kina that it generated, and after the mine closed due to civil war, what is there to show for, in terms of “development”, in real terms? The same could be said of the Misima mine and the people too?

I guess the question that needs answering is, who has and is actually benefiting out of the exploitation of our precious natural resources? More precisely, how are our own people, especially in the rural areas of these multi-billion dollar project areas, really benefiting? The fact that as citizens, we barely scrape through every year despite billions of Kina annual budget being handed down, and effectively there is nothing to show for, is quite troubling to live with.

May be, as a People and a Nation, we should acknowledge the stand taken and the call made by the Sepik River People, this time, and take a step back and critically look at our natural resources extraction policies, laws and strategies again by identifying those serious issues and problems that we have had and faced in the last 42 years, and answer the question, why have we not done well and made any real progress in our development endeavour, in order to do what might be the right thing or way to do to realize that collective desired progressive difference? This challenge should not be that difficult to do as there have been and continue to be scores of scholarly papers / books that have been written about PNG experience over the years relating to our developmental challenges that should guide us to do the right thing, for once!

One problem for sure, in my humble view, is that, in the course of the 42 years of our independence, we have had all the time and opportunity to take a bold stance and make major policy shift to make a big  and better difference but we just did not have that, bold, strong, honest and responsible leadership to do it, and our situation and sufferings today is a testament, that we had quality leadership failure. We need good, strong, bold, determined and responsible leadership with moral authority committed to doing the right thing by their people for now and into the future. 

It is my greatest hope that the Governor of East Sepik and the Leaders responsible for this major mine development will take heed of the our peoples’ call and do what is proper and right by all and guide the nation along a more prosperous developmental path into the future, a better one than what we have been through thus far?

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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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Govt, BHP blamed for damage to Fly River

The Fly River is a “dead river” according to the World Bank

The National aka The Loggers Times | January 31, 2019

THE Government and BHP should be equally responsible for the damage to the Fly River as the result of the Ok Tedi mine, a former mining minister says.

Former mining minister and South Bougainville MP Sam Akotai thanked Minister for Environment and Conservation John Pundari for tabling a bill in respect to environment population.

He said the Act would put Ok Tedi on par with all the environment protection laws and practices with other mines operating in the country.

Akotai said the Act would also give confidence to other mines that the Government was not biased with its operations and conducts in respect to the environmental issues in Ok Tedi.

Akotai said he had experience in the industry for well over 18 years and was qualified to make such statements while Ok Tedi mine brought a lot of revenue for the country.

He said the developer, BHP Ltd, owned the mine but it was in partnership with the government and while there was a lot of talks on the damage in Western, both BHP and the national government needed to be squarely responsible for the damage.

He said damage done to the Fly River and its inhabitants was irreplaceable, with the river being described as a “dead river”.

“It is one of the biggest damages ever, and many times we are happy to receive revenues but we have a population who are faced with the situation where the river is already dead,” he said.

“A World Bank report says Fly River is a dead river. After the mine closes, the people of Western living along the Fly River will face the problem for more than 200 years.

“However, the good news was that the new Act would at least control the operation of the mine and the deposit of the waste of the mine.”

Akotai said waste from the Porgera gold mine in Enga was also washed down to the Strickland River which eventually connects the Fly River that added more to the level of damage.

“That is why I’m sorry for our citizens living along the Fly River in Western,” he said.

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Thirty-four years of mining but Western still behind others in development: Yoto

A mother and her malnourished child, Bimadbn Village, Morehead, Western Province, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Penny Johnson

Thirty-four years of mining at the giant Ok Tedi mine but the people of Western Province are still waiting to see the promised benefits

The National aka The Loggers Times | January 28, 2019

Western Governor Taboi Awi Yoto says his province still lags behind other provinces in terms of development, despite 34 years of Ok Tedi mining operations.

Yoto said this when he presented its K308 million 2019 appropriation budget to Treasurer Charles Abel in Port Moresby on Thursday.

“There are no major road networks to connect rural areas to urban areas,” he said.

“My people are still walking long distances, paddling along rivers and swamps to reach the nearest service centres to get medical treatment, attend schools or sell their products at the local market.”

Yoto said the Western Province Development Strategy (2018-22) focused on healthy and educated people with food on the table and income in their pockets.

The Western appropriation budget of K308,050,800 expects K210,831,100 million from National Government grant allocation.

Yoto said the provincial government, through its internal revenue collection, was expected to collect about K97,219,700.

Provincial headquarters will get K171,049,100, South Fly K41,993,900, Middle Fly K49,435, 900, and North Fly K45,571,900.

“The criteria for budget allocation was based on current development and service delivery issues and challenges that confront the lives of over 211,000 people living in rural areas and urban centres across Western,” Yoto said.

Enabling infrastructure got the biggest slice of the budget with K50,764,100 (31 per cent) allocated.

This was followed by education with K36,691,400 (22 per cent)

The health sector was allocated K29,607,000 (18 per cent) while governance sector was allocated K23,372,200 million (14 per cent).

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Save the Sepik from mining: learning from the past

Visiting the Sepik River and its people. Photo supplied.

Ken Golding | Echo Net | 21 September 2018

The people of the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea understand the threat to their lives and culture from the Chinese-owned copper and gold mine that is currently being proposed to be built on the Frieda River, a tributary of the headwaters of the Sepik River.

My partner Raine Sharpe, myself and Keith O’Neill have just returned from the remote Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. We were part of the Northern Rivers Folk Choir that responded to invitations from the people of The Sepik to live with them, share their culture and help alert the world to the threat to their lives from the copper and gold mine being proposed.

Rich culture

We were welcomed into their homes, their daily life and their rich and colourful culture. Sepik people are warm, generous, and intelligent with a great sense of humour. They are renowned for the quality of their artistic cultural expression and live an ecologically aware life described by PNG ABC journalist Sean Dorney as ‘affluent subsistence’.

The Sepik River is 1,200 kilometres long and is the largest uncontaminated freshwater system in the Asia Pacific region. Rising in the Central Highlands it winds its serpentine way through mountains, rainforest and wetlands to the ocean. People have lived on the Sepik for many thousands of years.

Poisoned river

The second-largest river in PNG is the Fly River. In the 1970s Australian mining companies built Ok Tedi, a huge copper and gold mine on the river’s headwaters. This mine became the scene of what is now recognised as the biggest ecological disaster in the world.

Discharging 80 million tonnes of contaminated tailings and mining erosion into the river system each year has caused 1,300 square kilometres of the river to be irrevocably damaged. People of the Fly River now suffer serious health problems with their main sources of food and water subjected to heavy-metal poisoning.

No social licence

I’m drawing the comparison between these two magnificent river systems because the mine proposed by the Chinese-owned Australian mining company PanAust that is preparing to build a gold and copper mine on the Sepik river system is as big, if not bigger than, Ok Tedi mine.

The people of the Sepik fear for their future and their way of life. They know about the damage to the Fly River and its people and are deeply fearful that the Freida mine is another Ok Tedi in the making. So far there has been minimal community consultation and the Sepik people consider the mine does not have a social licence to go ahead.

We have a deep sense of shame that an Australian company recklessly inflicted damage on the Fly River and its people.

The Sepik River is the lifeblood of its people. The children of the village we stayed with are healthy and vibrant. Their delight and laughter melted our hearts.

Professor Tim Flannery says he cannot think of a worse place for a copper mine. Surely we cannot allow an ecological disaster to happen again.

Raise awareness

To raise awareness and funds in support of the people of the Sepik we are holding an evening event Tales of the Sepik River in Mullumbimby on Saturday September 29 at 6.30pm.

If you want to know more about this event email raines@australis.net.

If you want to know more about the people of the Sepik, and the Frieda mine, go to Save the Sepik River and its people on Facebook.

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