International mining companies are blasting their way into fragile island environments.
Chris Harris traces just a small cross-section of their activities.
Names and origin of mining companies are in brackets.
PENNY TWEEDIE / PANOS
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
The most heavily impacted of all Pacific countries. Largest number of prospective new projects.
Copper: Panguna (RTZ/CRA – UK/Australia) Currently shut down by war in Bougainville provoked by effects of mine; one billion tonnes of waste so far; all aquatic life killed in 480-square-kilometre river system. Ok Tedi (BHP – Australia)
All aquatic life killed within 70 kilometres of river. Court action by landowners forced $400 million compensation.
Gold: Porgera (Placer Pacific – Australia/Canada) 40,000 tonnes of waste daily. Hazardous heavy metals in 140 kilometres of river – up to 3,000 times permitted levels. Lihir (CRA – UK/Australia) Will dump 89 million tonnes of cyanide-contaminated tailings and 330 million tonnes of waste rock into one of the richest areas of marine biodiversity on earth.
Oil and gas: Kutubu (Chevron – US) Oil piped 176 kilometres to Kikori estuary. In 1996 non-essential staff evacuated after threats from landowners disaffected over royalty payments.
Nickel/cobalt: Ramu (Highlands Gold – Australia) Planned. High-pressure acid-leach processing. High risk to coastal and marine environments.
Contact: Independent and Community Rights Advocacy Forum, Box 155,
PO University, NCD, PNG. Tel: (675) 3262469. Fax: (675) 3260273.
e-mail: [email protected]
In the last two years 33 new exploration permits have been issued. No mining has yet occurred, but local communities are worried.
Principal companies and number of exploration areas: BHP (Australia) 1; Aberfoyle (Australia) 2; Macmin (Australia) 1; Gauler Resources (Australia) 1; Union Mining (Australia) 3; Wattle Gully (Australia) 5; Minerals International (Vanuatu/Australia/Canada) 9; Island Arc (Canada) 6.
Contact: IDEAS (Industrial Development and Economic Alternatives for SANMA), PO Box 377, Luganville, Santo, Vanuatu. Tel/fax: (678) 36667 or 36114. e-mail: [email protected] (Executive Director: John Salong).
KANAKY / NEW CALEDONIA
World's fourth-largest nickel producer, with 30 per cent of laterite deposits.
Key strategic mineral for both French and Japanese defence and nuclear industries. Thio Mine: world's largest nickel deposit; massive generation of waste. Domiambo smelter: emissions more than 1,000 times those permitted in France. Nickel is a Class One carcinogen – Kanaky has world's highest level of asthma mortality and highest levels of lung cancer in Central and South Pacific.
Principal companies: Société Metallurgique le Nickel, owned by Eramet (France); INCO (Canada).
Contact: Jean Scorsone, Combat Vert, CDDJC, BP 766, Paita, 98980, New Caledonia. PALIKA, BP 10003, Noumea, New Caledonia.
Gold rush in ecologically sensitive parts of Western Province since 1994. Local NGOs say companies' negotiations with landowners divide communities.
Gold: Gold Ridge (Ross Mining NL – Australia) Relocation of villagers. Landowners to launch constitutional challenge on environmental grounds.
Contact: WWF Pacific, PO Box 97, Gizo, Western Province, Solomon Islands. Tel: (677) 60191.
Fax: (677) 60294. e-mail: [email protected]
Nauru: Two-thirds of island now wasteland. Trustee governments (Germany, then joint British, Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand) paid lowest possible royalties in breach of trusteeship.
Banaba: Island totally destroyed by stripmine. Displaced inhabitants bought Fijian island with compensation. Return pilgrimage planned August 1997.
Mataiva: Exploratory mining until 1982, when halted by local landowners. Lagoon poisoned, no fish edible for 7 years. Islanders claim 95 per cent of them are opposed.
Principal company: GIE Raro Moana (Australia/Canada)
Contact: Banaban Heritage Society, PO Box 536, Mudgeeraba, Qld 4213, Australia. e-mail: [email protected]
Malaysian logging companies, writes Annette Lees, are ruthlessly exploiting the native tropical forests of the western South Pacific region (Melanesia), leaving in their wake a devastated environment and broken communities. The pathways of these companies can be traced across the islands, following the litter of soil erosion, random bulldozer tracks, hundreds of thousands of hectares of destroyed canopy, reefs killed by soil sedimentation.
GARY JOHN NORMAN /
Traditional indigenous kin groups own over 80 per cent of the land in the region. Ancient village sites, boundary lines, battle grounds and burial areas characterize nearly every hectare. But in both the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea examples abound of remote rural communities having their forests sold from under them by their representatives in the towns.
A survey of 116 villages in Solomon Islands in 1995 found that only six per cent of them wanted their forests to be logged by an outside timber company. But 83 per cent wanted a logging or saw-milling operation that they controlled themselves. NGOs are beginning to work with them to develop this alternative. Otherwise the choice is between the logging company with its tantalizing promises, or more hardship.
Annette Lees is based in Wellington, Aotearoa / New Zealand.
PENNY TWEEDIE / PANOS
Huge upsurge in exploration.
Gold: Emperor (Emperor Gold Mining Co – Australia) Strike over pay by Fiji Mine Workers Union since 1991. Company refused to recognize union, sacked 420 members and employed non-union labour.
Copper: Namosi (Placer Pacific – Australia) Marginal low-grade deposit yet to be developed; 98,000 tonnes of waste – equivalent in weight to nearly one million large people – would be dumped into the ocean every day.
Another 24 companies, principally Australian, have exploration licences.
Contact: WWF Pacific, PMB Suva, Fiji.
Tel: (679) 315533.
Fax: (679) 315410.
e-mail: [email protected] (Peter Hunnan)
Further details on mining companies and additional contacts are obtainable from:
Chris Harris, Mineral Policy Institute,
PO Box 21, Bondi Junction, NSW 2022, Australia.
Tel: (61) 2 93875540. Fax: (61) 2 93861497.
e-mail: [email protected]
Web address: http://www.mpi.org.au
Of the 24 political entities of the South Pacific region, 15 are colonies of one sort or another, marked on the map as follows:
In Free Association with the US (Micronesia, Marshall Islands) Unincorporated US Territory (Guam), US Commonwealth (Northern Mariana Islands)
In Free Association with Aotearoa/New Zealand (Cook Islands, Niue), Aotearoa/New Zealand Territory (Tokelau)
British Colony (Pitcaim)
French Overseas Territory (Kanaky, French Polynesia, Wallis and Fortuna Islands)
Chilean Territory (Rapa Nui/Easter Island)
Help us keep this site free for all
New Internationalist is a lifeline for activists, campaigners and readers who value independent journalism. Please support us with a small recurring donation so we can keep it free to read online.