A Human Rights Watch report launched in Lilongwe has faulted government for faileing to protect the rights and livelihoods of people living in nascent mining communities in the country.
The report titled ‘They have destroyed everything: mining and human rights in Malawi’ is based on 150 interviews with communities, civil society organisations, mining companies and government officials.
It said families living near coal and uranium mining operations face serious problems with water, food, and housing, and are left in the dark about health and other risks from mining.
The 96-page report raises questions about mining companies which are allowed to operate in the country, but end up violating health and economic rights of communities surrounding the mining sites.
It examines the impact of extractive industries on communities in some of Malawi’s first mining areas, in Karonga district located on the northwestern shores of Lake Malawi.
Malawi’s government has promoted private investment in mining and resource extraction to diversify its economy. But environmental risks are common in resource extraction and mining significantly contributes to climate change, which in turn affects governments’ ability to realize the rights to health, water, and food.
The report also faults government for failing to “effectively monitor, let alone systematically address, the impacts of mining operations”.
Human Rights Watch, which mainly focused on mining activities in Karonga at Keyelekera and Mwabulambo, further accused government of ignoring concerns of contamination of water and land by uranium and coal mines, denying communities and civil society information on the same.
“Malawi shouldn’t repeat the mistakes made in resource extraction in other countries in Southern Africa,” said Katharina Rall, researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It is not enough to create a fertile investment climate for mining companies. The government urgently needs to protect the rights of affected communities.”
Human Rights Watch documented rights violations in Karonga district communities affected by coal and uranium mining operations of Eland Coal Mining Company, Malcoal, and Paladin Africa Limited (Paladin).
The global watchdog found that Malawi lacks adequate safeguards to ensure the necessary balance between development efforts and protecting the rights of local communities, and that weak government oversight and a lack of information leave local communities unprotected.
“Since the mining came we have had many problems,” a woman at Mwabulambo said. “The coal is in our gardens and running into our fields. The way the crops look, you would think that someone had poured petrol on them.”
Human Rights Watch found that mining operations have forced several families to resettle. These families said that they were notified so late that they had no time to find alternative housing, leaving some without shelter. Many said that compensation procedures were unclear and, in several instances, compensation fell short of what they needed to rebuild or sustain a comparable standard of living, including access to land.
“The inadequate healthcare infrastructure and secrecy around monitoring results leads to a lot of uncertainty about what is actually happening,” said Rall. “This is part of the problem, the government and companies need to finally take monitoring seriously and people have a right to know the results.”
Reinford Mwangonde, executive director of Citizens for Justice, which hosts Secretariat of the Natural Resources Justice Network, a Malawian network of nongovernmental organizations advocating for sustainable resource extraction, said “the push for industrialization and growth needs to be accompanied by a social license and companies should deliver on their promises.”
Human Rights Watch noted that While Malawi has some laws and policies that protect the rights of communities potentially affected by mining, they are poorly enforced. Government watchdogs stand by while mining operations are allowed to progress, regardless of the risks for local communities or the environment. A new draft law, the Mines and Minerals Bill, while relatively progressive in many respects, fails to address the lack of transparency about the risks related to mining.
The government has begun to create a more comprehensive legal framework and has promised to improve enforcement. But mining communities are still waiting for inspection results and remedies for harm suffered.
Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) executive secretary Grace Malera and Mwangonde welcomed the report.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :