Inter Press Service » Natural Resources http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 24 Jan 2017 11:33:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Looting and Unrest Spread in Mexico Over Gas Price Hikehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:07:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148484 Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

“We are absolutely fed up with the government’s plundering and arbitrary decisions. We don´t deserve what they’re doing to us,“ said Marisela Campos during one of the many demonstrations against the government´s decision to raise fuel prices.

Campos, a homemaker and mother of two, came to Mexico City from Yautepec, 100 km to the south, to protest the recent economic decisions taken by the administration of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“Everything’s going to go up because of the gasolinazo“ – the popular term given the 14 to 20 per cent increase in fuel prices as of Jan.1, said Campos, while she held a banner against the measure, in a Monday Jan. 9 demonstration.

The measure unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, carried out by trade unions, organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people's pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don't read laws, not even those on taxes.“ -- Nicolás Domínguez

The simultaneous price hikes for fuel, electricity and domestic gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which show no signs of subsiding, have led to at least six deaths, some 1,500 people arrested, and dozens of stores looted.

“We are opposed to Peña Nieto’s way of governing. The price rises and budget cutbacks have been going on since 2014. Now there will be an increase in the cost of the basic food basket and transport rates,“ Claudia Escobar, who lives on the south side of Mexico City, told IPS during another demonstration.

Escobar, a mother of three, decided to join the protests because of what she described as “serious social disintegration and turmoil.“

In response to the social discontent, the government argued that the price rises were in response to the increase in international oil prices since the last quarter of 2016, and insisted that without this measure, budget cuts with a much more damaging social impact would have been necessary.
But the rise has its origin more in the elimination of a fuel subsidy which up to 2014 absorbed at least 10 billion dollars a year, as well as in the state-run oil company Pemex’s limited productive capacity.

To this must be added the government’s tax collection policy, where taxes account for 30 per cent of the price of gasoline.

In addition, energy authorities seek to make the fuel market more attractive, because its freeing up is part of the energy reform which came into force in 2014, and opened the oil and power industries to private capital.

Peña Nieto, in office since December 2012, promised Mexicans that this energy reform would guarantee cheap gasoline for the domestic market.

Pemex’s oil extraction has been in decline since 2011, and in 2016 it fell 4.54 per cent in relation to the previous year.

In November, crude oil production amounted to 2.16 million barrels a day, the lowest level in three decades, due to an alleged lack of resources to invest in the modernisation of infrastructure.

Gas and diesel production suffered a similar decline over the past two years, with a 15.38 per cent decrease between 2015 and 2016, when Pemex refined 555,200 barrels equivalent a day of both fuels combined.

This forced a rise in fuel imports, mainly from the United States, with Mexico importing in November 663,300 barrels equivalent a day, 15.88 per cent more than in the same month the previous year.

Traditionally, Pemex contributed 33 per cent of the national budget, but the collapse in international prices since 2014, and its contraction in activity, reduced its contribution to 20 per cent, which compels the government to obtain income from other sources.

For Nicolás Domínguez, an academic at the state Autonomous Metropolitan University, the government is facing the complex situation with “simplistic and incomplete“ explanations.

“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people’s pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don’t read laws, not even those on taxes.“ he told IPS.

But the public “do understand when they go shopping and they can’t afford to buy what they need. That makes them angry. And when they ask for explanations, the government tells them that in United States gasoline prices have gone up, that they have gone up everywhere.”

The common prediction of critics of the gasolinazo is its impact on the cost of living, which in the last few months has been spiraling upwards, with inflation standing at around 3.4 per cent by the end of the year, according to still provisional figures.

The non-governmental organisation El Barzón, which groups agricultural producers, warns that the price of essential goods could climb by 40 per cent over the next months.

“It is likely that there will be serious repercussions on national agricultural production and in households,“ the organisation’s spokesman, Uriel Vargas, told IPS. He predicted that the impact of the rise in fuel prices will be “an increase in the levels of inequality, which are already a major problem.”

For Vargas, “the government must take action to avoid a rise in prices.“

According to 2014 official figures, 46 percent of Mexico’s 122 million people were living in poverty – a proportion that has likely increased in the last two years, social scientists agree.

The gasolinazo canceled out the four percent rise in the minimum wage adopted this month, which brought the monthly minimum to 120 dollars a month.

As demonstrated by the Centre for Multidisciplinary Analyses of the Mexico National Autonomous University, the minimum monthly wage, earned by about six million workers, does not satisfy basic needs.

In its “Research Report 126. The minimum salary: a crime against the Mexican people,“ the Centre concluded that the minimum wage has lost 11 per cent in buying power since Peña Nieto took office.

The study states that it takes three minimum wages just to put food on the table.

To make matters worse, Mexico’s economic growth will range only between 1.5 and 2 per cent, and a further weakening of the economy is possible, according to several projections, due to the impact of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump, who will take office as U.S. president on Jan. 20.

In an attempt to calm things down, Peña Nieto presented this Monday Jan. 9 an “Agreement for Economic Strengthening and Protection of the Domestic Economy,“ which includes a 10 per cent cut in the highest public sector wages.

But for observers, these are merely bandaid measures.

“What the government wants is to calm people down. These are small remedies and what people want is a drop in gas prices. The question is what direction do they want Mexico to move in. If it is about improving the well-being of families, this is not the best way. If the demonstrations spread, the government will have to back down,“ said Domínguez.

For people such as Campos and Escobar, the starting point is reversing the increase in oil prices.

“We will persist until the rise is reverted and there is a change,“ said Campos, while Escobar added “we hope that they understand that we will not stay quiet.“

On February 4 there will be another price adjustment, another spark to the burning plain that Mexico has become.

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Anti-Fracking Movement Alarmed at Trump’s Focus on Fossil Fuelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 01:09:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148396 A gas field in Damascus, in the Fayetteville basin in the southern state of Arkansas in the U.S., the world’s biggest shale fuel producer. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A gas field in Damascus, in the Fayetteville basin in the southern state of Arkansas in the U.S., the world’s biggest shale fuel producer. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, USA , Jan 4 2017 (IPS)

Earl Hatley, a descendant of the Cherokee/Delaware tribe, has witnessed the consequences of using hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on his native land to produce shale gas.

“Fracking is harmful to water supplies, wildlife, and property values. It has caused earthquakes where there were none. Since 2007, it began to tremble more and more near the wells. I can smell the foul emissions, which make me sick,” the founder of Local Environmental Action Demanded (L.E.A.D.), a non-governmental organisation based in Oklahoma, told IPS.

Hatley has property in Payne, Oklahoma, in the Midwest, which he says he cannot visit anymore because of the toxic emissions from the wells.“Opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, because there is more knowledge and evidence about the effects. Besides, the organisations have become more sophisticated in their analyses and more active.” -- Andrew Grinberg

“The oil and and gas industry flares their escaping gas and also do not monitor leaks, as there are no regulations in Oklahoma demanding they do. We had the opportunity to test a few wells and found all of them were bad,” he said.

In the state of Oklahoma there are about 50,000 active natural gas wells, of which some 4,000 use fracking. At least 200 of them are in Payne.

With similar scenarios in other states, the anti-fracking movement in the US is especially worried about what President-elect Donald Trump will do after he takes office on Jan. 20, since he pledged to give a boost to the fossil fuel industry, despite its impact on global warming.

The United States is the country that produces the largest quantities of shale oil and gas, which has made it the main global producer of fossil fuels, ranking first in gas extraction and third in oil.

Trump “is sending signals of the support the industry will receive, which will exacerbate the already-known impacts of fracking, such as water pollution and methane emissions,” Argentine activist Daniel Taillant, head of the non-governmental Center for Human Rights and Environment (CHRE), told IPS during a workshop on fracking in the Americas, held in Little Rock, the capital of the southern state of Arkansas.

Natural gas trapped in underground shale rock is released by the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure, which fractures the rocks. Fracking requires large amounts of water and chemical additives, some of which are toxic. Drilling and horizontal fracking generate enormous quantities of waste fluid.

The waste liquid contains dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that need to be treated for recycling, and methane emissions, which pollutes more than carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming.

Numerous studies have confirmed the damage fracking causes to water, air and the landscape, and how it triggers seismic activity.

For the fracking industry, good times will return when Trump is sworn in. In May he launched a plan for the first 100 days of his administration, which included giving a strong boost to the sector, despite the denounced environmental, social and economic impacts.

The programme includes the removal of all barriers to energy production, including fossil fuels, natural gas, oil and “clean coal”, valued in the document at 50 trillion dollars, in what it calls an “energy revolution” destined to produce “vast new wealth”.

In addition, the president-elect promised to eliminate existing regulatory barriers on fossil fuels and promote the development of “vital energy infrastructure projects,” such as oil and gas pipelines.

A technician monitors the gas-water separators in the Charles Wood 09-13 shale gas well in Van Buren, Arkansas, in the United States, the world’s leading fossil fuel producer, thanks to the use of fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A technician monitors the gas-water separators in the Charles Wood 09-13 shale gas well in Van Buren, Arkansas, in the United States, the world’s leading fossil fuel producer, thanks to the use of fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that, of the daily US production of over nine million barrels of gas and oil equivalent, 51 per cent were extracted in 2015 by fracking, in spite of the collapse in international prices this year.

The cost of extracting a barrel of oil by fracking is at least 65 dollars. Apart from Trump’s promises, the gradual rise in prices as a consequence of the reduction in production by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) since January, has encouraged the sector to continue to extract.

The growing use of fracking has sparked lawsuits over its effects and scientific research to determine the impacts.

The fourth edition of the “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction)” lists 685 scientific studies published between 2009-2015 that prove water pollution, polluting emissions released into the atmosphere and their impacts on human health.

The compendium, drafted by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), cites more than 900 studies in the US on the impact of fracking, which demonstrate the concern generated by the use of this technology.

Meanwhile, people affected by fracking have filed more than 100 lawsuits since 2011, according to a count carried out by Blake Watson with the School of Law of the private University of Dayton, Ohio.

In the specific case of Arkansas, a state where fewer people have been affected because the gas fields are located in sparsely populated areas, five cases have been settled out of court, three are still in progress and 10 have been thrown out of court.

Fracking has also sparked local reactions.

The states of Vermont and New York have banned the use of this technology, while in California six counties have followed suit, and in Florida 32 counties and 48 cities.

Meanwhile, the state of Maryland has imposed a two-and-a-half-year moratorium, while Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled in May to lift the bans applied by two cities, and Texas passed a law making local bans on fracking illegal.

“Opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, because there is more knowledge and evidence about the effects. Besides, the organisations have become more sophisticated in their analyses and more active,” said Andrew Grinberg, National Campaigns – Special Projects manager for the non-governmental Clean Water Action.

For economic reasons, coal has lost ground to gas. In addition to the expansion of solar and wind energy, the resurrection promised by Trump faces a complex panorama.

“Resistance against fracking is growing, especially in places where it is not yet widely practiced, because there is more knowledge about the harm it causes and that knowledge will increase. But the results of Trump’s support remain to be seen,” said Taillant, whose organisation operates in the state of Florida.

Hatley said that opposition to fracking is slowly growing due to the reported increase in seismic activity, but “people are afraid, because the industry is very powerful.”

In Oklahoma, 1,900 earthquakes have been documented since 2015, blamed on the injection of fluid byproducts from drilling operations into deep underground wells.

Grinberg told IPS there are still pending issues in relation to regulation, such as the need for more public information on the chemicals used, and for a ban on basins for disposal of liquid waste, gas storage and methane emissions, a gas much more polluting than carbon dioxide.

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Battle Lines Drawn Over Indian Mega Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 10:27:09 +0000 Stephen de Tarczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148355 Murrawah Johnson, 21, of the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, is among those standing in the way of the huge Carmichael coal mine project in Australia's Queensland state. Photo courtesy of Murrawah Johnson.

Murrawah Johnson, 21, of the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, is among those standing in the way of the huge Carmichael coal mine project in Australia's Queensland state. Photo courtesy of Murrawah Johnson.

By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Dec 30 2016 (IPS)

Among those leading the fight against the massive Indian-owned Carmichael coal project in Australia’s Queensland state is 21-year-old Murrawah Johnson of the Wangan and Jagalingou aboriginal people, the traditional owners of the land where the proposed mine is to be located.

“Our people are the unique people from that country,” says Murrawah, whose name means ‘rainbow’ in the indigenous Gubbi Gubbi language. “That is who we are in our identity, in our culture, in our song and in our dance,” she adds.The mine’s estimated average annual carbon emissions of 79 million tonnes are three times those of New Delhi, six times those of Amsterdam and double Tokyo’s average annual emissions.

The Wangan and Jagalingou, numbering up to 500 people, regard the Carmichael coal mine as a threat to their very existence and have repeatedly rejected the advances of Adani Mining, the company behind the project. The traditional owners argue the mine would destroy their land, which “means that our story is then destroyed. And we as a people and our identity, as well,” Murrawah, a spokesperson for her people’s Family Council, told IPS.

Adani Mining is a subsidiary of the Adani Group, an Indian multinational with operations in India, Indonesia and Australia cutting across resources, logistics, energy, agribusiness and real estate. In March, the company announced its first foray into the defence industry.

Adani’s Carmichael project envisions a 40km long, 10km wide mine consisting of six open-cut pits and five underground operating for up to sixty years. The company intends to transport the coal to India to aid in that country’s electricity needs. According to the International Energy Agency, 244 million Indians – 19 percent of the population – are without access to electricity.

Should the project go ahead, it would be the largest coal operation here – Australia is already a major coal producing and exporting nation – and among the biggest in the world, producing some 60 million tonnes of thermal coal annually at peak capacity.

But at a time when global warming is a significant threat to humanity, the Carmichael mine is generating substantial opposition. Since the project was announced in 2010, there have been more than ten appeals and judicial processes against the mine.

Shani Tager, a campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, is adamant that the coal that Adani wants to dig up must remain in the ground. “It’s a massive amount of coal that they’re talking about exporting, which will be burnt and used and make the problem of global warming even worse,” she says.

Coal-fired power plants emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat within the Earth’s atmosphere and which plays an important role in the phenomenon of human-induced climate change.

According to a 2015 report by The Australia Institute, a local think tank, Adani’s project would release more carbon into the atmosphere than many major cities and even countries.

The report states that the mine’s estimated average annual carbon emissions of 79 million tonnes are three times those of New Delhi, six times those of Amsterdam and double Tokyo’s average annual emissions. It would surpass Sri Lanka’s annual emissions and be similar to both Austria’s and Malaysia’s.

Despite these alarming figures, both the Australian and Queensland state governments are backing Adani’s Carmichael mine. There has been widespread speculation here that the federal government will provide support via a AUD one- billion loan (722 million U.S. dollars).

The Queensland government, anticipating a boost to jobs, the regional economy and to its own coffers as a result of royalties, announced in October that it was giving the project “critical infrastructure” status in order to fast-track its approvals.

“This Government is serious about having the Adani mine in operation. We want this to happen,” Anthony Lynham, state minister for mines, told local media at the time.

In early December, Adani received what the state government describes as the project’s “final major” approval: Adani’s rail line to the port of Abbot Point, from where the coal will be shipped to India.

In 2011, Adani signed a 99-year lease on the Abbot Point coal terminal, which sits immediately adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Australia’s iconic reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem and among the most diverse and richest natural ecosystems on Earth.

In November, scientists from Queensland’s James Cook University confirmed the worst-ever die-off of corals in the reef, following a mass coral bleaching event earlier in the year. Heat stress due to high sea temperatures is the main cause of coral bleaching, with bleaching events expected to be more frequent and severe as the world’s climate warms up.

Adani plans to significantly expand the Abbot Point terminal in order to ship larger amounts of coal. This means dredging up the sea floor right next to the Great Barrier Reef.

“The Carmichael coal mine will have a domino effect of bad impacts on the reef, from driving the need for port expansion and more dredging and dumping to increasing the risk of shipping accidents on the reef,” says Cherry Muddle from the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

The reef’s tourism industry provides some 65,000 jobs, with numerous operators also speaking out against both the Carmichael mine and the Abbot Point expansion in recent times.

Despite Minister Lynham’s assurances that “200 stringent conditions placed on this project through its court processes” will protect the reef, others remain extremely concerned.

“Adani has a really worrying track record of environmental destruction, human rights abuses, corruption and tax evasion,” says Adam Black from GetUp, a movement which campaigns on a range of progressive issues.

Among the accusations leveled at Adani operations in India in a 2015 report by Environmental Justice Australia are the destruction of mangroves; failure to prevent salt water intrusion into groundwater; bribery and illegal iron ore exports; using political connections to purchase land cheaply; and obtaining illegal tax deductions.

Adani’s CEO in Australia, Jeyakumar Janakaraj, was in charge of a Zambian copper mine owned by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) when, in 2010, the mine discharged dangerous contaminants into the Kafue River. Found guilty, the company was fined around AUD 4,000 (2,900 U.S. dollars).

Some 1800 Zambians have since taken KCM and its UK-based parent company, Vedanta Resources, to the High Court in London, alleging they were made sick and their farmland destroyed over a ten-year period from 2004. Janakaraj was with KCM from 2008 to 2013.

Now, with Adani hoping to break ground on its Carmichael coal project in mid-2017, opponents are prepared to continue their hitherto successful campaign of dissuading potential financiers from backing the AUD 16-22 billion project (11.5-15.8 billion U.S.).

“If they can’t get the money, they can’t build the mine,” says Murrawah Johnson.

The Wangan and Jagalingou recently set up what they call a “legal line of defence” against Adani and the Queensland government, consisting of four more legal challenges, with plans to take the matter to the High Court if needs be.

They have also been in contact with the United Nations for some time.

For Murrawah, this battle is about maintaining connection with both the past and the future. “I refuse to be the broken link in that chain,” she says.

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Bringing South Africa’s Small-Scale Miners Out of the Shadowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/bringing-south-africas-small-scale-miners-out-of-the-shadows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-south-africas-small-scale-miners-out-of-the-shadows http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/bringing-south-africas-small-scale-miners-out-of-the-shadows/#comments Wed, 28 Dec 2016 11:21:31 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148327 The Masakane village in Mpumalanga sits mere meters away from coal heaps feeding Duvha Power Station. The formal coal industry has failed to bring economic opportunities to local communities, so many residents turn to informal coal mining for an income. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

The Masakane village in Mpumalanga sits mere meters away from coal heaps feeding Duvha Power Station. The formal coal industry has failed to bring economic opportunities to local communities, so many residents turn to informal coal mining for an income. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

By Mark Olalde
JOHANNESBURG, Dec 28 2016 (IPS)

In a country with unemployment rising above 25 percent, South Africans are increasingly looking for job creation in small-scale mining, an often-informal industry that provides a living for millions across the continent.

“How do you make formalisation not kill their businesses but rather improve their businesses?" --Sizwe Phakathi
Estimates for the number of small-scale miners in South Africa range from 8,000 to 30,000. Across the African continent, estimates put the number of such miners around 8 million. Roughly another 45 million are thought to depend on their income.

According to the United Nations’ African Mining Vision, almost 20 percent of Africa’s gold production and nearly all the gemstone production besides diamonds are mined by small-scale miners.

Sizwe Phakathi, now the head of safety and sustainable development at the Chamber of Mines, previously researched informal coal and clay mining in Blaauwbosch, KwaZulu-Natal with the Minerals and Energy for Development Alliance and the African Minerals Development Centre.

“We can’t classify it as ‘illegal mining.’ This has been happening for years, and people got to mining this area through customary practices,” he said.

Small-scale gold miners prepare to descend underground for a shift in an abandoned gold mine. South Africa’s mining industry shed 9,000 jobs last quarter alone, so activists search for ways to create new economic opportunities for small-scale mining. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/583/31093312584_6189501f5d_o.jpg

Small-scale gold miners prepare to descend underground for a shift in an abandoned gold mine. South Africa’s mining industry shed 9,000 jobs last quarter alone, so activists search for ways to create new economic opportunities for small-scale mining. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

These miners are often unaware of the law and operate with permission from the local chief or municipality but without a valid mining permit. In the community Phakathi studied, 94 percent of the miners had never held a mining permit and many did not know of the relevant legislation.

“Many of these people that work there, many of them are breadwinners of their households, and they are heads of households,” Phakati said.

Pheaga Gad Kwata, director of the Department of Mineral Resources’ (DMR) small-scale mining division, believes that bringing these miners into compliance would allow them greater access to technical knowledge and markets.

“We’ve realized that it is one of the activities where you can probably get a job quickly,” Kwata said, adding that the DMR is busy with workshops to educate miners on the benefits of working within the law.

An artisanal miner in Johannesburg displays ore. Activists argue that formalizing small-scale mining could create jobs and allow for the implementation of health and safety regulations. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

An artisanal miner in Johannesburg displays ore. Activists argue that formalizing small-scale mining could create jobs and allow for the implementation of health and safety regulations. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

This type of cooperation could assist Jiyana Tshenge, who works with the Prieska Protocol, a program aimed at linking the small-scale miners of a semiprecious gemstone called tiger’s eye to a lapidary and onward to international markets. This streamlined approach is expected to significantly increase the wages of the miners by cutting out the middlemen operating in the informal economy.

A lack of this market access, though, has tabled the project for the moment.

“If we can establish that market and establish a proper plan, we will then go back and engage with the people of the community properly,” Tshenge said. “I think we can create a lot of jobs.”

According to Phakati, an immediate benefit of regulation would be the implementation of health and safety standards, something he found severely lacking in his research. In his case study, the vast majority of workers never used personal protective equipment such as hardhats, goggles or gloves. The local Mzamo High School also had to be relocated when mining encroached on the school and released harmful gases.

The Matariana informal settlement houses illegal gold miners on the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, about 50 miles west of Johannesburg. South Africa is home to more than 6,000 abandoned mines, many of which attract small-scale miners. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

The Matariana informal settlement houses illegal gold miners on the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, about 50 miles west of Johannesburg. South Africa is home to more than 6,000 abandoned mines, many of which attract small-scale miners. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

However, formalisation is slowed by the very poverty it is meant to alleviate. Small-scale miners have trouble paying for transport to the DMR’ offices, which are often far from their communities. The costs associated with procuring a permit – such as setting aside a financial provision for environmental rehabilitation and producing environmental impact assessments – also continue to present a barrier to entry.

“How do you make formalisation not kill their businesses but rather improve their businesses? Formalisation should be tailored to their needs,” Phakati said.

Pontsho Ledwaba of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry argues that legislative changes are necessary to smooth the formalisation process. Mining permits currently must be renewed every few years, which could make it difficult to guarantee a return for anyone lending money to these miners. The amount of land allocated in mining permits also weakens these operations’ financial sustainability.

“Five hectares is actually too small for some of the minerals. For granite, sandstone, it’s too small. In terms of investment, [small-scale miners] don’t get investment because two years, five years is a small time to break even and pay back,” Ledwaba said.

According to Ledwaba, the government needs to aim regulations toward historic mining sectors that already operate nearly legally.

“The bulk of them actually mine what we called industrial and construction minerals. These are your sands, your clay, your sandstone,” Ledwaba said. “Those are the ones government has tried to move to the legal space.”

Many of these sectors operate outside the law simply because the relevant legislation came into effect after mining began.

Besides the economic barriers to formalisation, experts agree that sweeping changes to small-scale mining cannot succeed without the participation of female miners.

Between 40-50 percent of Africa’s small-scale mining workforce is female, according to research from the international relations consulting firm German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation.

“Clearly one of the beneficiaries of formalising this is you should create employment for women,” Phakati said. “The formalisation and development of this sector need to target women.”

In rural South African provinces such as Limpopo, women have mined clay for generations. In other areas such as the North West, there are examples of mining permits held by women. Although mining is seen as a male-dominated industry, experts say small-scale mining can be a breeding ground for female entrepreneurship.

“I’ve come across a number of operations actually owned by women,” Ledwaba said. “[Formalisation] will definitely have a gendered impact.”

Mark Olalde’s work is financially supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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Beyond Standing Rock: Extraction Harms Indigenous Water Sourceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/beyond-standing-rock-extraction-harms-indigenous-water-sources/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-standing-rock-extraction-harms-indigenous-water-sources http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/beyond-standing-rock-extraction-harms-indigenous-water-sources/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 20:23:58 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148257 At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Dec 20 2016 (IPS)

Since the decision by the U.S. army to suspend the Dakota Access pipeline on 4 December, many are still unsure of the controversial pipeline’s future or its implications for other mega infrastructure projects affecting indigenous communities across North America.

After months of demonstrations by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of allies from across the world, the Army announced that it will not allow the 1,172-mile long pipeline to cross Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

The statement was met with celebrations and tears by those who have taken up residence in camps along the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers as part of the #NoDAPL movement.

“Everyone was very excited, very pleased at the camp,” said Sioux County native involved in #NoDAPL Cannupa Hanska Luger told IPS.

Among concerns over the pipeline is its risk of contaminating the Missouri River, the tribe’s main source of water.

However, the excitement over the Army’s decision did not last long, Luger said.

“Primarily this is an issue of Native people not being too comfortable and too steadfast with government decrees. All of our treaties have been broken…we were elated in the moment but then we also readied ourselves for any future statement or outcome,” Luger told IPS.

One such treaty is the 1851 treaty of Fort Laramie which defined Sioux territory as the land where DAPL is being constructed. Though it was later taken away under a 1868 treaty, the land remains disputed as some say they never ceded the territory.

Despite the recent decision and territorial disputes, Energy Transfer Partners, the oil company in charge of the  $3.8 billion project, has vowed to continue DAPL, stating: “[We] are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

Many also fear that incoming President-elect Donald Trump will overturn the decision as he has vowed to divert billions of payments to UN climate programs towards building up domestic coal, oil and gas industries.

His cabinet nominations also suggest an increased focus on such industries including ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt – who has been battling President Obama’s climate change policies – as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Rick Perry as Energy Secretary who, during his time as governor of Texas, expanded oil and gas development.

“This fight is not over, not even close. In fact, this fight is escalating,” said a coalition of grassroots organisations including Sacred Stone one of the Dakota Access resistance camps, pointing to the new administration as a source of uncertainty.

The struggle is far from over, not only for DAPL, which is just one of many extractive projects that threaten access to clean water for many indigenous communities on the continent.

One such case is the legacy of uranium mining in the Navajo Nation in the Southwestern United States.

During the Cold War, the U.S. government extracted uranium from the Navajo Reservation, which is home to the largest indigenous population in the country. According to the EPA, over 30 million tonnes of uranium ore was extracted from or adjacent to Navajo lands.

Executive Director of global water organisation DigDeep George McGraw remarked on the similarities between DAPL and uranium mining to IPS, calling it “if not sister problems, cousin problems.”

“The Sioux, like the Navajo, have struggled to maintain water access for the majority of their population in general…so to come in and threaten, in a really meaningful way, the resources that they do have like a river is an even more gross offense,” he said.

Decades of uranium mining have contributed to a water crisis leaving approximately 40 percent of Navajo households without clean running water.

McGraw noted that water contamination has only worsened because mines have not been cleaned up. There are over 500 abandoned mines with radioactivity levels as high as 25 times above what is considered to be safe.

Such exposure has led to alarmingly high rates of cancer in a population which the medical community previously thought had “cancer immunity.”

By treaty and law, the United States is responsible for protecting the health of the Navajo Nation. However, McGraw pointed to unfulfilled treaty obligations, similar to that of the Sioux Nation.

Despite a recent settlement between the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government to help clean up 16 abandoned uranium mines, access to clean water remains elusive as ongoing coal mining in the Navajo reservation poses a further threat to drinking water sources.

McGraw noted that such extractive processes tend to take place more often on Native American land.

“That’s symptomatic of our treatment of Native Americans when it comes to all these energy issues…most of the country ignores this place and they can get away with that, “ he told IPS.

Chair of the Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS) Rudolph Ryser echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “The indigenous world is invisible to the rest of the world…so it’s easy for developers, corporations, governments to press economic development projects that advantage them at the expense of indigenous nations and it’s been going on for a long time.”

Ryser particularly pointed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Canada which was recently approved by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The expansion will create a twinned pipeline which was increase oil transports from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day.

Some First Nations have strongly opposed the project, citing concerns of an increased risk of an oil spill. Oil company Kinder Morgan only garnered support for the pipeline from one-third of the 120 indigenous groups it consulted.

The Canadian province of Alberta also approved another three oil sands projects including Husky Energy’s Saleski project, the same company responsible for a July oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River from a different pipeline.

Approximately 250,000 litres of oil was leaked, impacting numerous cities including the James Smith Cree Nation territory. Five samples from the First Nation’s water revealed levels of toxins unfit for human consumption.

Though the DAPL movement was important in that it brought different tribes together, Ryser said that as long as these projects continue, the “struggle is not over.”

Similarly, Luger noted that stopping one pipeline does not mean the end.

“The solidarity that was created within Native communities at Standing Rock…set a precedent where we went and decided that we must help one another. And because most of these extractive resources are taking place on or near Native borders, we also know that we are readying ourselves to work towards the future and help one another within our communities nationally and internationally,” he concluded.

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Soil: Keeping Nutrients in Food and Carbon in the Groundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/soil-keeping-nutrients-in-food-and-carbon-in-the-ground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soil-keeping-nutrients-in-food-and-carbon-in-the-ground http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/soil-keeping-nutrients-in-food-and-carbon-in-the-ground/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 22:56:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148098 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/soil-keeping-nutrients-in-food-and-carbon-in-the-ground/feed/ 0 Unleashing Africa Full Potentialhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/unleashing-africas-full-potential/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unleashing-africas-full-potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/unleashing-africas-full-potential/#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2016 15:22:37 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148058 Amb. Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and a Kenya’s candidate for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission.]]>

Amb. Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and a Kenya’s candidate for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 2 2016 (IPS)

Africa, the cradle of mankind and home to the youngest population in the world, has a historic opportunity to realise its full potential, in sharing our potential prosperity, by enhancing economic growth, promoting and entrenching democratic ideals. That is why I am so passionate to be running for the coveted African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson.

Amb. Amina Mohamed

Amb. Amina Mohamed

It is time for the African Union to provide leadership. Africans of all walks of life are looking up to it. I also strongly believe our continent is at a turning point, a defining moment, when we must drive an agenda that realises a common vision of integration, cooperation, collaboration and committed leadership. It is Africa’s time; we cannot afford to miss this golden opportunity to put it at the centre stage of world politics and economics while improving the lot of our people and countries.

We already have a sound blueprint going forward as envisaged in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – TThe Africa We Want.

This blueprint has a clear roadmap for implementation. One of the critical areas is achieving synergy of member States through collaboration among the eight regional economic groupings and AU’s strategic partners.

Africa’s markets must communicate with each other to harness trade and investment. Infrastructure deficit stands as an impediment towards this objective. We must secure seamless connectivity through people-to-people interactions, ICT and knowledge transfer throughout the Continent. Hard infrastructure development should also be reinforced by more intra-Africa rail, road, air and water linkages.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere once said: “Together, we the people of Africa will be incomparably stronger internationally than we are now with our multiplicity of unviable states’. It is no longer tenable to keep talking of our great potential. It is time to make the African Continent; felt, heard and respected on the global scene. For this to happen, Africa must take greater responsibility of financing its development and programmes. Such has been the agreement by our Finance and Planning Ministers since March, 2015. Domestic resource mobilisation is the assured strategic complement to foreign investment and official development assistance. Focused leadership at the AUC will guarantee that this decision is fully implemented.

In order to increase the financial resources available internally, industrialisation and diversification remain pertinent. More specifically, we need to harness our blue economy and fast-track the mining industry.

Africa has to build the capacity of our youthful population. In 2015, African Youth aged 15 – 24 years accounted for 19 percent of the global youth poppulation and projected to increase by 42 percent by 2030. This is a demographic dividend to Africa’s prosperity. Women must also be fully enabled to play an inclusive role in all spheres of Africa’s development. Tapping into African talent will be the hallmark of my tenure. The collective success to Agenda 2063 lies in creating an indomitable human force to resolve Africa’s challenges.

Every African citizen deserves a life of dignity free from harm, in order to promote social justice and the realization of their potential. I am optimistic that together we can continue to create a Continent that not only embodies our pride and dignity, but also the hub for peace and stability.

Africa must also make its cultural diversity a cause for celebration. Cultural exchange across the continent through education, travel and symposia. This will renew our Pan-African ideals especially among younger Africans.

Our continent has made significant strides in expanding access to education and better health care. In order to shelter our population from extreme want, we ought to explore skills diversification and universal health coverage.

Investing in value-addition through agro-processing will increase Africa’s global market share and attain collective food security and comparative advantage.

Going forward, we must remain in partnership with the rest of the world. Global challenges such as climate change will only be resolved through cooperation. However, Africa remains most vulnerable from effects of global warming. As such, we need to; take serious mitigation and adaptation measures, utilise indigenous knowledge to generate local shared solutions and build resilient communities in addition to our continued demands for climate justice.

Thus, united by the vision of an independent Africa working for better lives of all her people, it is now time for the AUC to foster the realisation of Africa’s full potential through transformative leadership harnessed by the AUC Secretariat.

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Coal Mine Threatens Ecological Paradise in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-mine-threatens-ecological-paradise-in-chiles-patagonia-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coal-mine-threatens-ecological-paradise-in-chiles-patagonia-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-mine-threatens-ecological-paradise-in-chiles-patagonia-region/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2016 12:50:18 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147877 Humpback whales and dolphins are part of the rich habitat of the Otway gulf, in the Magellan Strait, near the Invierno mine on Riesco Island in the southern Chilean wilderness region of Patagonia. Credit: José Antonio de Pablo/ Riesco Island Alert

Humpback whales and dolphins are part of the rich habitat of the Otway gulf, in the Magellan Strait, near the Invierno mine on Riesco Island in the southern Chilean wilderness region of Patagonia. Credit: José Antonio de Pablo/ Riesco Island Alert

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Nov 22 2016 (IPS)

An open-pit coal mine in the southern island of Riesco, a paradise of biological diversity in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness region, is a reflection of the weakness of the country’s environmental laws, which are criticised by local residents, activists, scientists and lawmakers.

Riesco, the country’s fourth-largest island, at the southern tip of South America, and the waters around it, is home to many species, such as the humpback whale, four kinds of dolphins, elephant seals and penguins, 24 species of land mammals and 136 birds.

“I will not leave. But I see the drastic changes,” a worried Gregor Stipicic, one of the island’s 150 inhabitants, told IPS by telephone from Riesco.

Gregor, 36, is the youngest of three Stipicic siblings who own a 750-hectare farm where they raise about 6,000 sheep, which are now threatened by dynamite explosions.

Gregor, a surgeon by profession, has been living on the farm since 2006, when he took charge after the death of his father. His grandfather, a Croatian immigrant, arrived to the island in 1956, drawn by its fertile soils.

Riesco Island is 5,000-sq-km in size and is 3,000 km south of Santiago, in Magallanes, the country’s southernmost province.

The local inhabitants live and work on 30 farms, which mainly raise sheep.

One-third of the island’s territory is within the Alacalufes National Reserve, one of the largest in Chile, covering 2.6 million hectares of wilderness that forms part of the country’s protected areas.

The “mina invierno” or winter mine, the largest open-pit coal mine in the country, belongs to the Riesco Island Mining Company, owned by the Chilean companies Copec and Ultramar, which invested 600 million dollars in the mine, and have four other deposits on the island, so far inactive.

The aim is to exploit, for 12 years, reserves of 73 million tons of sub-bituminous coal, of low calorific value and high heavy metal content. The coal is sold to the Huasco, Tocopilla, Mejillones and Ventanas thermoelectric plants in north and central Chile, and exported to China, India, Brazil and other countries.

The steady decline in international coal prices affected the company’s plans, which temporarily decreased production and cut its payroll.

Lengas (Nothofagus pumilio) and Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus antarctica) seen on Riesco Island, in Chile’s Patagonia wilderness region, which is threatened by coal mining. Credit: Claudio Magallanes Velazco/Riesco Island Alert

Lengas (Nothofagus pumilio) and Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus antarctica) seen on Riesco Island, in Chile’s Patagonia wilderness region, which is threatened by coal mining. Credit: Claudio Magallanes Velazco/Riesco Island Alert

To open the Invierno mine, 400 hectares of native woodland were cut, a lake was dried up, and the functioning of the water in the surrounding area was modified. It currently has three sterile waste dumps, each one 60 mts high.

“Everything is becoming polluted. Some 1,500 hectares of land will be directly affected, including 500 metres of open pit which has already reached 100 of the projected 180 metres in depth,” said Ana Stipicic, spokesperson for the social and ecological movement Riesco Island Alert.

“The last report on pollution we made was on the impact on the Chorrillo Invierno Dos River. Now we learned that the Cañadón and Chorrillo Los Coipos Rivers were also polluted. There are settling ponds to remove matter from wastewater, but they don’t work,” the activist, who is Gregor’s sister, told IPS in Santiago.

She said that the rivers affected a wetland and “along the shore there are enormous pieces of coal. The mining port and the crushers that crush the mineral throw charcoal into the sea. Nobody has studied this.”

Ana Stipicic said particles in the air “fall on the surrounding grazing lands, woods and water bodies where there is rich fauna.” She added that the mining activity “has caused huge movements of wildlife, from woodpeckers to huemul deer and capybara.”

Biologist Juan Capella, from the Yubarta Foundation, complained that the shipping of coal through the Otway gulf, the Gerónimo channel and the Magellan Strait has affected humpback whales and dolphins that live in this area, where the Francisco Coloane Marine Park is located.

“There are reported cases of collisions of cargo ships with whales. The more coal that is transported and the heavier the ship traffic in such a narrow channel, the higher the chances of collisions and deaths of whales. The latest recorded case occurred in March, when a ship ran into a whale and killed it,” he told IPS from Punta Arenas, capital of Magallanes province.

Map of the location of coal mines on Riesco Island at the southern tip of Chile. Credit: Riesco Island Alert

Map of the location of coal mines on Riesco Island at the southern tip of Chile. Credit: Riesco Island Alert

Climate specialist Nicolás Butorovic said that during the Environmental Impact Assessment of the Invierno mine, “we proved that the modelling was wrong with respect to settleable particulate matter. They predicted 60 micrograms per day while the stations measured up to 158.”

The company had stated that it would not use dynamite explosions since they sought sustainable mining. It also claimed that winds in the area averaged 39 kilometres per hour when in fact they can reach up to more than 180 kilometres per hour.

Fernando Dougnac, head of the organisation of environmentalist lawyers FIMA, filed legal action which brought the explosions to a halt.

Dougnac told IPS in Santiago that in his legal presentation he included veterinary records from the year 1998, showing that during breeding season, sheep are highly susceptible to noise, to the point that workers are asked to stay out of the areas where the sheep are mating or raising young.

“We expect the explosions to be stopped during those months. The Invierno mine needs to cut operating costs, so they will insist on making detonations the four times a week that they are allowed,” said Ana Stipicic.

The national director of Greenpeace Chile, Matías Asún, told IPS that the mining company “deceived the population and disregarded the regulations to later be allowed to use dynamite explosions.”

In his opinion “Chile’s environmental authority operates on the basis of economic and commercial criteria. Their official discourse is not the protection of the environment but the protection of investment and the environment.”

He said “it is anachronistic that in a country where renewable energies are experiencing remarkable growth at a global scale and coal is in decline, on top of the many territorial conflicts generated, a subsidy is granted violating de facto environmental regulations and the commitments that the own company made to the community.”

“Riesco Island is not sustainable without cutting costs with environmental impacts,” he stressed.

Independent legislator for Magallanes province Gabriel Boric told IPS that the company presented the coal mining project in a fragmented manner to obtain approval.

“That a project be allowed to be presented by parts, so that its environmental impact cannot be assessed integrally, is one of the main weaknesses of our environmental protection system, which must be remedied by means of reforms,” he said.

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Battle of the Desert (II): A ‘Great Green Wall for Africa’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/battle-of-the-desert-ii-a-great-green-wall-for-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-of-the-desert-ii-a-great-green-wall-for-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/battle-of-the-desert-ii-a-great-green-wall-for-africa/#comments Sun, 20 Nov 2016 07:39:46 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147849 Tera, Bajirga, Niger - Women at work for preparing the field for the next rainy season by escaving mid-moon dams to save water. Credit: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Tera, Bajirga, Niger - Women at work for preparing the field for the next rainy season by escaving mid-moon dams to save water. Credit: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 20 2016 (IPS)

Desertification, land degradation, drought, climate change, food insecurity, poverty, loss of biodiversity, forced migration and conflicts, are some of the key challenges facing Africa—a giant continent home to 1,2 billion people living in 54 countries.

And they are huge challenges indeed, in particular affecting Africa’s vulnerable drylands. Just think that the drylands of North Africa, Sahel and Horn of Africa extend over 1.6 billion hectares home to about 500 million people, i.e. slightly less than half of the entire population of the continent.

Nora Berrahmouni

Nora Berrahmouni

Such rapidly deteriorating situation, which has been exacerbated by climate change and its growing impact, has mobilised more than 20 African countries around the Sahara (North, East and West), international organisations, research institutes, civil society and grassroots organisations, to build together what has been called: The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI) or simply Africa’s Great Green Wall (GGW).

On this, Nora Berrahmouni, Forestry Officer (Drylands) at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), tells IPS in an interview that the GGW core area (focus area for intervention identified) is about 780 million hectares.

What is this Wall all about? “Africa’s Great Green Wall, the so-called “Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI)” is a Pan African initiative, established and endorsed by the African Union in 2007 and it is Africa’s flagship initiative to combat the effects of climate change, desertification, food insecurity and poverty.”"Drylands of North Africa, Sahel and Horn of Africa extend over 1.6 billion hectares home to about 500 million people"-- FAO

Here, Berrahmouni clarifies that the so-called Great Green Wall initiative “is not a line or a wall of trees across the desert. The “Wall” is a metaphor to express solidarity between countries and partners, a mosaic of sustainable land management and restoration interventions.”

Regardless of its name, the plan aims at promoting:

• Long-term solutions to the pressing challenges of desertification, land degradation, drought and climate change,

• Integrated interventions tackling the multiple challenges affecting the lives of millions of people in the Sahel and Sahara, including restoration of production systems, development of rural production and sustainable development hubs,

• And an urgent call to development actors and policy makers to invest more on long term solutions for the sustainable development of drylands in the Sahel and Sahara.

Asked about specific examples, these are “sustainable management of natural resources, including soils, water, forests, rangelands; promotion of sustainable rural production systems in agriculture, pastoralism and forestry, as well as sustainable production, processing and marketing of agricultural products and forest goods and services, says Berrahmouni.

Other examples include the diversification of economic activities through rural production centres, to stimulate job creation and offer income generation activities, in particular for youth and women, and to spread knowledge exchange about the causes of desertification and the best ways to combat and prevent it.

FAO is a key partner of the African Union and of its member states in implementing this initiative. Indeed, for FAO, this is a “game changer in addressing poverty eradication, ending hunger and boosting food and nutrition security in the continent,” the Algerian expert explains.

Djibo, Burkina Faso - Planting seeds and seedlings. Credit: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Djibo, Burkina Faso – Planting seeds and seedlings. Credit: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

From 2010 to 2013, FAO focused on supporting the African Union Commission and 13 member countries to put in place an enabling environment for the implementation of the GGWSSI. These countries are: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan.

With funding from the FAO Technical Cooperation Programme and the European Union (EU), this leading UN body in the field of food and agriculture has developed and implemented successfully two complementary projects.

These projects have lead to: the preparation and validation of national action plans and strategies for the implementation of the initiative in 13 countries; the development and validation of Regional Harmonized Strategy, ensuring that all stakeholders involved in the implementation of work towards a common and shared vision, objectives and results, and to put in place a community of practice for the effective implementation of Africa’s Great Green Wall.

Berrahmouni tells IPS that since July 2014 and with the support of European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) Secretariat, FAO is implementing with partners a project called “Action Against Desertification” in support of the implementation of the Great Green Wall in 6 countries (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal) and South-South Cooperation in ACP countries.

On November 16, FAO presented to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech, Morocco (7-18 November), a groundbreaking map of restoration opportunities along Africa’s Great Green Wall. at the UN climate change conference.

Announcing that there are 10 million hectares a year in need of restoration along the Great Green Wall, it informs that restoration needs along Africa’s drylands have been mapped and quantified for the first time.

The map is based on collection and analysis of crucial land-use information to boost action in Africa’s Great Green Wall to increase the resilience of people and landscapes to climate change.

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Phosphate Mining Firms Set Sights on Southern Africa’s Sea Floorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/phosphate-mining-firms-set-sights-on-southern-africas-sea-floor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=phosphate-mining-firms-set-sights-on-southern-africas-sea-floor http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/phosphate-mining-firms-set-sights-on-southern-africas-sea-floor/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 11:23:49 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147811 President Jacob Zuma answers questions at the National Council of Provinces on Oct. 25, 2016. During the session, he said Operation Phakisa helped drive investments worth R17 billion toward ocean-based aspects of the economy since 2014. Courtesy: Republic of South Africa

President Jacob Zuma answers questions at the National Council of Provinces on Oct. 25, 2016. During the session, he said Operation Phakisa helped drive investments worth R17 billion toward ocean-based aspects of the economy since 2014. Courtesy: Republic of South Africa

By Mark Olalde
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

A persistent fear of diminishing phosphorus reserves has pushed mining companies to search far and wide for new sources. Companies identified phosphate deposits on the ocean floor and are fighting for mining rights around the world.

Countries in southern Africa have the potential to set an international precedent by allowing the first offshore mining operations. South Africa specifically is one of the first countries on the continent to begin legislating its marine economy to promote sustainable development, and questions surround mining’s place in this new economy.While the fishing and coastal tourism industries account for slightly more than 1.4 billion dollars of GDP, the potential economic benefits from marine mining remain unclear.

From April 2007 to August 2008, the price of phosphate, a necessary ingredient in fertilizer, increased nearly 950 percent, in part due to the idea that phosphate production had peaked and would begin diminishing. Before prices came back down, prospectors had already begun looking for deep sea phosphate reserves around the world.

Since then, the fledgling seabed phosphate industry has found minimal success. While several operations are proposed in the Pacific islands, New Zealand and Mexico rejected attempts at offshore phosphate mining in their territory.

This means southern African reserves – created in part by currents carrying phosphate-rich water from Antarctica – are the new center of debate.

Namibia owns identified seabed phosphate deposits, and the country has recently flip-flopped about whether to allow mining. A moratorium was in place since 2013, but in September the environmental minister made the controversial decision to grant the necessary licenses. Since then, public outcry forced him to set those aside.

Most attempts at seabed phosphate mining have sputtered in the face of moratoriums and other roadblocks. Graphic courtesy of Centre for Environmental Rights

Most attempts at seabed phosphate mining have sputtered in the face of moratoriums and other roadblocks. Graphic courtesy of Centre for Environmental Rights

The former general project manager of Namibian Marine Phosphate (Pty) Ltd, a company that applied to mine in Namibia, told IPS that environmental groups and fisheries proved to be a loud and organised opposition. He predicted the debate in South Africa would be just as difficult for mining companies to win with no precedent for such mining.

Adnan Awad, director of the non-profit International Ocean Institute’s African region, said, “There is generally this anticipation that South African processes for mining and for the policy around some of these activities are setting a bit of a precedent and a bit of a model for how it can be pursued in other areas.”

Three companies, Green Flash Trading 251 (Pty) Ltd, Green Flash 257 (Pty) Ltd and Diamond Fields International Ltd., hold prospecting rights covering about 150,000 square kilometers, roughly 10 percent, of the country’s marine exclusive economic zone.

Diamond Fields International’s prospecting right along 47,468 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean shares space with areas of oil exploration and production. Source: Diamond Fields International Ltd. background information document

Diamond Fields International’s prospecting right along 47,468 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean shares space with areas of oil exploration and production. Source: Diamond Fields International Ltd. background information document

The law firm Steyn Kinnear Inc. represents both Green Flash 251 and Green Flash 257. “Currently it does not seem as if there is going to be any progress, and there is definitely not going to be any mining right application,” Wynand Venter, an attorney at the firm, said, calling the project “uneconomical.”

Venter said the Green Flash companies received drill samples, which showed current prices could not sustain seabed phosphate mining.

This leaves Diamond Fields as the only remaining player in South African waters. The company announced in a January 2014 press release that it received a 47,468 square kilometer prospecting right to search for phosphate.

According to information the company published summarising its environmental management plan, prospecting would use seismic testing to determine the benthic, or seafloor, geology. If mining commenced, it would take place on the seafloor between 180 and 500 meters below the surface.

“A vital and indisputable link exists between phosphate rock and world food supply,” the company stated, citing dwindling phosphate reserves.

Diamond Fields did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Environmentalists argue that not only would phosphate mining destroy marine ecosystems, but it would also lead to continued overuse of fertilizers and associated pollution. They call for increased research into phosphate recapture technology instead of mining.

“We could actually be solving the problem of too much phosphates in our water and recapturing it. Instead we’re going to destroy our ocean ecosystems,” John Duncan of WWF-SA said.

The act of offshore mining requires a vessel called a trailing suction hopper dredger, which takes up seafloor sediment and sends waste back into the water column.

A southern right whale swims off the coast of the Western Cape province near Hermanus, a town renowned for its whale watching. South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources granted three prospecting rights covering about 150,000 square kilometers, or 10 percent, of the country’s exclusive economic zone. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A southern right whale swims off the coast of the Western Cape province near Hermanus, a town renowned for its whale watching. South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources granted three prospecting rights covering about 150,000 square kilometers, or 10 percent, of the country’s exclusive economic zone. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

“It amounts to a kind of bulldozer that operates on the seabed and excavates sediment down to a depth of two or three meters. Where it operates, it’s like opencast mining on land. It removes the entire substrate. That substrate become unavailable to fisheries for many years, if not forever,” Johann Augustyn, secretary of the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association, said.

In addition to direct habitat destruction, environmentalists argue the plume of sediment released into the ocean could spread out to smother additional areas and harm wildlife.

Mining opponents also worry offshore mining would negatively impact food production and economic growth.

Several thousand subsistence farmers live along South Africa’s coast, and the country’s large-scale fishing industry produces around 600,000 metric tonnes of catch per year.

“[Mining] may lead to large areas becoming deserts for the fish populations that were there. If they don’t die off, they won’t find food there, and they’ll probably migrate out of those areas,” Augustyn said.

While the fishing and coastal tourism industries account for slightly more than 1.4 billion dollars of GDP, the potential economic benefits from marine mining remain unclear. There are no published estimates for job creation, but Namibian Marine Phosphate’s proposal said it would lead to 176 new jobs, not all of them local.

“The benefits are not coming back to the greater South African community,” Awad said. “African countries generally have been quite poor at negotiating the benefits through multinational companies’ exploitation of coastal resources.”

South Africa is one of only three African nations – along with Namibia and Seychelles – implementing marine spatial planning. This growing movement toward organised marine economies balances competing uses such as oil exploration, marine protected areas and fisheries. Earlier this year, the Department of Environmental Affairs, DEA, published a draft Marine Spatial Planning Bill, the first step toward creating marine-specific legislation.

According to government predictions, a properly managed marine economy could add more than 12.5 billion dollars to South Africa’s GDP by 2033. What part mining will play in that remains to be seen.

“Internationally the off-shore exploration for hard minerals is on the increase and it is to be expected that the exploitation of South Africa’s non-living marine resources will also increase,” the DEA’s draft framework said.

Neither the Department of Mineral Resources nor the DEA responded to repeated requests for comment.

Mark Olalde’s mining investigations are financially supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Additional support for this story was provided by #MineAlert and Code for Africa.

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Funding Lags to Combat Land Degradationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/funding-lags-to-combat-land-degradation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=funding-lags-to-combat-land-degradation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/funding-lags-to-combat-land-degradation/#comments Wed, 26 Oct 2016 22:44:42 +0000 Justus Wanzala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147529 Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) of UNCCD held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20, 2016. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) of UNCCD held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20, 2016. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

By Justus Wanzala
NAIROBI, Oct 26 2016 (IPS)

Land degradation already affects millions of people, bringing biodiversity loss, reduced availability of clean water, food insecurity and greater vulnerability to the harsh impacts of climate change.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), two billion hectares of productive land are currently degraded worldwide. An additional 12 million hectares are degraded every year.

Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20 all agreed that urgent action is needed to address the problem.

But for efforts to combat land degradation to succeed, huge financial resources must be mobilised.

UNCCD has proposed creation of the Impact Investment Fund for Land Degradation Neutrality (Land Degradation Neutrality Fund). Although not yet operationalsed, the fund is intended to bring together institutions committed to addressing the global challenge of land degradation.

It will support large-scale rehabilitation of degraded land, for sustainable and productive use, with long-term private sector financing. The fund also aims to contribute to the achievement of global and local food and water security, and to mitigate climate change by sequestering up to 20 percent of CO2 emissions by 2050.

The fund hopes to mobilise 50 billion dollars to rehabilitate 300 million hectares of land worldwide in the next 20 years, reducing carbon emissions by an estimated 20 billion tonnes.

The Global Mechanism is spearheading the establishment of the Fund. The Fund plans to provide a structured framework in which private and public actors will be able to engage with the aim of achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). The private-public partnership will include provision of funds and technical assistance.

The LDN concept was introduced at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012. According to UNCCD, attaining LDN means ensuring that the amount of land resources that every household, region or country depends on for ecosystems services such as water, remains healthy, productive and stable.

The resolve resonates with target 15.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in September 2015 in New York. The target is to achieve LDN by 2030.

The Global Mechanism, UNCCD’s operational arm, was identified as the body to administer the fund to support initiatives that aim to reach LDN.

The vision of the LDN Fund is to combat land degradation and finance rehabilitation of 12 million hectares of degraded land a year. When in place, it will also complement and leverage existing initiatives by creating a link between the bottom up approach (projects developed on the ground) and the top down initiatives (government targets, institutional initiatives).

Markus Repnik, managing director of the Global Mechanism, said that 450 billion dollars is required annually to combat land degradation and desertification. He noted that climate funding is growing but more resources are needed. Repnik added that states have spent 200 billion dollars but total financing is less than 400 billion dollars.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), a financial mechanism under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is aiming to provide half of its funds for climate change adaptation measures. He noted that the African Development Bank (ADB) wants to triple climate financing by 2020.

Repnik said that there is abundance of funding initiatives and systems but there is no single measure to show how finances are being mobilised.

“In-depth data on global financing is required. It should be known how much has been spent, where it came and who provided it in addition to ensuring data compatibility and reliability,” said Markus.

He called upon parties to consider how they will mobilise resources to implement the convention. The EU delegation to the UNCCD’s CRIC 15 urged parties to explore more funding mechanisms instead of relying on multilateral partnerships. They said innovative measures to source funds from the private sector should be explored.

During the conference it was revealed that developing countries and their partners have contributed five billion dollars towards efforts to curb desertification and land degradation. However, delegates insisted that more money is urgently needed and the developed countries should provide more funds.

Representatives of community-based organisations (CSOs) noted that the cost per unit (hectare) in combating land degradation also varies from country to country.

“More precise and comprehensive information is required,” they noted in a statement.

They emphasized that financing of programmes to combat land degradation should incorporate human resources development. They also noted that the financing mechanism should involve the 500 million smallholder farmers across the world whose rights require protection.

“Vulnerable groups such as indigenous people and pastoralists should be targeted for support,” read the CSOs statement.

At the same time, parties recognised the need to mobilise additional financial resources for voluntary LDN target setting and implementation from multiple sources such the GEF, Green Climate Fund, LDN Fund (once operational), national budget allocations and the private sector.

They called upon the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an independent financial entity that works with countries and international institutions, CSOs and the private sector to address global environmental issues, and the Global Mechanism to provide the required support.

Richard Mwendandu, director of Multilateral Environment Agreements at Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, said that although money can be mobilised to finance efforts towards meeting SDG 15.3, there is no specific global fund in place to support efforts to fight land degradation.

“Just a paltry 30,000 dollars has been issued by the Global Mechanism to assist countries on a pilot basis in the area of target setting as envisaged in the LDN concept,” he told IPS.

Mwendandu added that individual countries are trying to mobilise resources to combat land degradation. Citing the case of Kenya, he noted the government is mobilising funds in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to fund projects aimed at fighting land degradation.

CRIC 15 was aimed enabling parties to UNCCD to agree to a post-2018 strategy.

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Kenya Greens Drylands to Combat Land Degradationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/kenya-greens-drylands-to-combat-land-degradation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenya-greens-drylands-to-combat-land-degradation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/kenya-greens-drylands-to-combat-land-degradation/#comments Tue, 25 Oct 2016 16:19:22 +0000 Justus Wanzala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147511 A Kenya Forestry Research Institute technician pruning an acacia tree at a drylands research site in Tiva, Kitui County. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

A Kenya Forestry Research Institute technician pruning an acacia tree at a drylands research site in Tiva, Kitui County. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

By Justus Wanzala
NAIROBI, Oct 25 2016 (IPS)

Faced with growing degradation that is swallowing large swathes of land in arid and semiarid areas, Kenya is heavily investing in rehabilitation efforts to stave off the threat of desertification.

Charles Sunkuli, secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, says a programme targeting 5.1 million hectares of degraded and deforested land for restoration by 2030 was launched in September 2016. He added that Kenya is increasing its forest cover from the current seven percent to a minimum of 10 percent.High levels of poverty, low water availability, deforestation and land degradation are fuelling conflicts among communities in East Africa.

“We have introduced an equalisation fund to help communities living in dry and degraded lands eke out at a living and participate in rehabilitation initiatives,” said Sunkuli.

He was speaking in Nairobi during the Fifteenth Session of the Committee of Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which concluded last week.

Afforestration, he noted, will mainly be done in the country’s arid and semiarid areas which make up 80 percent of Kenya’s land cover, although other areas of the country to are being targeted too.

To succeed in its ambitious endeavour, Sunkuli said Kenya is implementing a programme to promote drought-tolerant tree species such Melia volkensii (locally known as Mukau) in the country’s vast drylands to increase forest cover.

Indeed, Kenya is heavily investing in research into drought resistant trees to enhance afforestration of dry lands and improve livelihoods. At Tiva in the dry Kitui County, eastern Kenya, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) has established a research centre to breed tree species ideal for planting in arid and semiarid areas. The centre is supported by the government in partnership with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

James Ndufa, director of the Drylands Eco-region Research Programme (DERP) at KEFRI, says growing population and conversion of forest into farms has led to unsustainable land use, thus contributing to land degradation and desertification.

Ndufa says the Tiva centre focuses on developing drought-tolerant trees for adaptation to climate change in dry lands. “Breeding is done to adapt tree species to much warmer and drier weather conditions linked to climate change,” he says.

Breeding is undertaken by the conventional method of selecting better performing trees. Ndufa says they intend to provide farmers with genetically improved seeds that are drought-tolerant, fast growing and produce quality timber in addition to fodder for livestock. This, he says, will eventually aid in rehabilitation of degraded land and conserve biodiversity.

DNA analysis is undertaken during selection and grafting is done to achieve desired results. They thus have established a seed orchard and progeny test site for Melia (Mukau) and acacia species.

The project, which started in 2012, gives genetically improved seeds of the two species to farmers. Apart from JICA, Kenya Forest Research Institute’s partners in the project are Kenya Forest Services, local universities, the Japan-based Forest and Forest Products Research Institute as well as the country’s Kyushu University.

The centre is located in a semiarid area that receives just 700 ml of rain per year. Farmers have meagre harvests and as a result they put pressure on natural resources by overexploiting them. Ndufa says the communities depend on cutting trees for charcoal sold in places such as Kenya’s capital Nairobi, leading to deforestation and land degradation.

Others wantonly harvest sand thus affecting the vegetation and causing land degradation. He adds that Mukau timber fetches 100 Kenyan shillings (one US dollar) per foot. “Approximately 400 trees can be grown on one hectare and when mature can yield between two million to two and half million Kenya Shillings (USD 200 -250,000),” he says .

According to Ndufa, the two tree species they are targeting have been overharvested. Mukau, whose wood is red in colour, is equivalent in value to mahogany and preferred by furniture makers, while acacia species are treasured for charcoal.

The aim is to develop fast-growing trees that can be ready for harvest in 15 to 20 years. Some 3,000 Mukau trees and 1,000 acacias have been planted on 100 hectares at the Tiva research site. About 2,500 kilogrammes of seeds have so far been collected.

They are also exploring breeding varieties from the two species which can retain leaves for a long period to serve as fodder for livestock such as goats. The project is also undertaking extension work to distribute seeds and create awareness about the trees using field trips, agriculture shows and field days.

The trees are easy to manage so women famers are increasingly adopting them. Veronica Kioko, a resident of Kitui county, says low adoption rates in some areas could be linked to food insecurity and poverty.

She said that although farmers have been educated about the benefits of the trees, they find waiting for 15 to 20 years for trees to mature before harvesting difficult. She says trees are mainly cut for making charcoal before they fully mature.

The situation is exacerbated by drought and hunger and fuelled by the overall state of poverty in the region. “People usually go without food when seasons fail, and without money they cut trees for charcoal and sell it cheaply,” said Kioko.

In terms of acacia breeds, Ndufa says the aim is to develop a variety that produces a lot of pods, branches and leaves to feed goats and camels apart from timber.

Frank Msafiri, chair of the Kenya chapter of the East African Sustainability (SusWatch) network made up of nongovernmental organisations from East Africa, says large-scale national and cross border interventions are necessary to combat desertification and land degradation.

He says high levels of poverty, low water availability, deforestation and land degradation are fuelling conflicts among communities.

“Players from sectors such as water, forest, agriculture and research bodies in Africa should not pursue conflicting strategies. They should harmonise their strategies under the umbrella of sustainable land management,” stresses Msafiri.

Speaking during the CRIC 15 in Nairobi, Monique Barbut, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said many countries engaged in land restoration have recorded positive results. Giving the example of Ethiopia, she said the land restored under that plan withstood the El Nino-related drought that affected eastern and southern Africa for the last year.

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Changing Climate Threatens World’s Smallholder Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/changing-climate-threatens-worlds-smallholder-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=changing-climate-threatens-worlds-smallholder-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/changing-climate-threatens-worlds-smallholder-farmers/#comments Wed, 19 Oct 2016 13:45:07 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147437 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/changing-climate-threatens-worlds-smallholder-farmers/feed/ 1 Indigenous Land Rights Bring Economic, not just Environmental Benefitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits/#comments Mon, 17 Oct 2016 03:46:52 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147377 Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
Oct 17 2016 (IPS)

Secure indigenous land rights not only bring environmental benefits, they can also foster economic development, according to a new report released by the World Resources Institute.

The report, Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs: The Economic Case for Securing Indigenous Land Rights, describes how local communities can sustainably manage forests and generate economic growth when given tenure rights to their land.

In Guatemala, Indigenous communities have successfully created sustainable income from the forest, while treating it as a renewable resource, Juan Carlos Jintiach, Advisor of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) told IPS.

Indigenous communities in Guatemala export forest products including highly nutritious berries which are popular in Korea and Japan, said Jintiach.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin

Their careful management of the forests has also made their wood products popular with guitar manufactures such as Gibson and Fender, he added.

“In Guatemala the community-based industry is very well organized.” They have a land rotation system for their timber activities and they monitor the timber products up to the point they reach the consumer.

“They have a sophisticated way of managing their forests – you can almost trace a product from the tree it came from on a particular patch of land.”

“They use this revenue to improve local development, healthcare and education in their communities and that’s where the economic impact comes into the picture,” said Jintiach.

The world’s 370 million Indigenous people have only limited land rights and are much more likely to live in extreme poverty than non-Indigenous peoples.

Although they make up just five percent of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples make up 15 percent of the world’s extreme poor, according the World Bank.

Therefore, inclusive economic growth which benefits indigenous peoples is one of the ways that countries can tackle extreme poverty, and achieve the first Sustainable Development Goal of ending extreme poverty.

However, economic benefits are not the only reason why Indigenous Land Rights are important, the report argues.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin, Director of Programs, Climate and Land Use Alliance said at the launch of the report.

“Other than the oceans there are no other carbon capture and storage technologies that are nearly as cost effective as forests and are proven on a large scale,” said Zarin.

“Deforestation rates on legally recognised Indigenous lands are two to three times lower registered to Indigenous peoples,” the report found.

Yet far too often government overlook local communities and allocate the rights to exploit a forest and other natural resources to multinational corporations with few if any links to the land.

“Indigenous Peoples and other communities hold and manage 50 to 65 percent of the world’s land, yet governments recognise only 10 percent as legally belonging to these groups, with another 8 percent designated by governments for communities,” the report found.

The report argues that allocating land rights to indigenous groups is relatively inexpensive for governments especially considering the measurable benefits.

“Secure indigenous forestlands provide significant global carbon and other ecosystem service benefits in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia, estimated at between $679 and $1,530 billion for the next 20 years,” said the report.

“Meanwhile, the costs of securing indigenous forestlands amount to less than one percent of these benefits.”

However without secure land rights, indigenous communities are often unable to protect the forest, Helen Ding, Environmental Economist and report author World Resources Institute, told IPS.

“We have seen that the REDD+ program has been there for more than 10 years now and there is still deforestation happening in Brazil and Indonesia. The reason for that is partly because many of these lands are held by indigenous people are not recognised and they are not protected,” said Ding.

In practical terms, she points out, land tenure rights allow local communities to access credit, which will enable them to generate economic benefits.

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Resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline: “This Is Not The End”  http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/resisting-the-dakota-access-pipeline-this-is-not-the-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=resisting-the-dakota-access-pipeline-this-is-not-the-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/resisting-the-dakota-access-pipeline-this-is-not-the-end/#comments Tue, 11 Oct 2016 05:12:50 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147291 A #NoDAPL demonstration in Oakland, CA. Credit: Peg Hunter / Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

A #NoDAPL demonstration in Oakland, CA. Credit: Peg Hunter / Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Oct 11 2016 (IPS)

Resistance towards the controversial Dakota Access pipeline continues after a federal court rejected requests to halt construction on Monday.

Since August, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of allies from across the North American nation have gathered in North Dakota to protest the 1,172 mile long pipeline.

The movement, known as #NoDAPL, an acronym of No Dakota Access Pipeline, has also garnered unprecedented support across the world, from Ecuador to New Zealand. In September, New Zealand Maori politician Pita Paraone voiced his support, stating: “If I didn’t support this, then what planet am I on?”

The $3.8 billion pipeline, undertaken by oil company Energy Transfer Partners and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, is to transport over half a million barrels of oil per day to Illinois. If built, it would be laid under multiple bodies of water including the Missouri River close to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s reservation.

The project was met with widespread criticism as it would destroy sacred and culturally important landscapes.

“[The pipeline] has absolutely no regard for our existence on this place…it has completely disregarded our burial sites, and our spiritual sites. It has disregarded all of those things that bind native people to the landscape,” artist and Sioux County native involved in #NoDAPL Cannupa Hanska Luger told IPS.

Standing Rock Sioux tribe reported that several sacred sites including burial grounds and places of prayer have already been destroyed.

“[The pipeline] has completely disregarded our burial sites, and our spiritual sites. It has disregarded all of those things that bind native people to the landscape,” -- Cannupa Hanska Luger.

The pipeline also poses a great risk of contaminating the tribe’s main source of water. Luger stressed the necessity of clean water, especially for an area that relies on agriculture.

“We actually have alternatives to oil. We don’t, as a living being on this planet, have an alternative to water. Once the last river is poisoned, we’re done,” he told IPS, also noting that they are “water protectors” rather than protesters.

According to federal data, pipeline spills are a daily occurrence. Between 2010 and 2013, there were almost 2000 incidents of leaks, amounting to an average of 1.6 incidents per day.

Despite these risks, critics say that plans for the pipeline were fast tracked, as the U.S. Corps of Engineers did not adequately assess the potential for oil spills or its impact on the environment.

In response, the agency said that a more rigorous environmental assessment would have been conducted if the initial evaluation showed any significant environmental effects.

However, the Army Corps noted negative consequences after rejecting a prior route from Bismarck, the state capital of North Dakota, citing potential contamination of the state capital’s water source.

“What they did is they went backdoor and went straight to tribal lands…which is always the fallback for any major construction project that has to do with fossil fuel extraction,” Red Warrior Camp organiser Krystal Two Bulls told IPS.

Red Warrior Camp is one of the main camps established along the Missouri River to protect the land from construction.

Beth Hill, a former Greenpeace activist who has been fundraising and delivering supplies to camps set up by the river, told IPS that the project is reminiscent of another controversial pipeline, stating: “This is basically Keystone with a different name.”

The 1,179 mile Keystone XL pipeline was poised to transport an increased supply of oil from Canada to the U.S. While the U.S. State Department said that the project would not impact the environment significantly, the agency also expressed the need to find alternative routes to avoid impacting the “environmentally sensitive area” of Sand Hills.

After six years of reviews, President Obama finally rejected the plan in 2015, citing concerns of environmental protection and climate change.

“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership,” he stated.

Recently, during the 8th Annual Tribal Nations Conference, President Obama addressed the issue of DAPL, telling attendees that “together, you are making your voices heard.”

The issue of the controversial pipeline also reached the halls of the United Nations, prompting Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to call on the U.S. government to halt construction of the pipeline and to consult with indigenous groups who were denied access to information and excluded from the planning processes.

“The United States should, in accordance with its commitment to implement the Declaration on the rights on indigenous peoples, consult with the affected communities in good faith and ensure their free, and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands, particularly in connection with extractive resource industries,” she stated.

Prior to Tauli-Corpuz’s statement, the Department of Justice, the Department of Army and the Department of the Interior made a joint statement to temporarily halt construction while the government reviews its previous decisions and to hold formal consultations with tribes.

On Sunday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed this ruling anddenied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s injunction to stop construction of the pipeline.

Many expressed disappointment in the ruling including Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II who responded that “this is not the end of this fight.”

“We will not rest until our lands, people, waters and sacred places are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline,” he continued.

Indigenous Environmental Network’s Native Energy and Climate Campaign Organiser Kandi Mossett told IPS that it has been an “emotional rollercoaster” but that the Energy Transfer Partners has yet to acquire a permit to build the pipeline under the river.

“We’re here and we’re going to be here if they try to continue to build,” she said.

On the other hand, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven applauded the decision, stating: “Energy infrastructure is vital to our country’s economy and national security, and it can be built safely.”

He added the need to provide help to local law enforcement to “ensure that any ongoing protests are within the law.”

Aggressive Response to “Water Protectors” and Media

However, observers have reported that the #NoDAPL movement is being met with militarised aggression and violence.

Hill told IPS of the militarised presence by the camps, noting that there were cars without license plates and armed guards who would not say who their employer was.

“You feel like you’re being watched constantly,” said Hill.

Similarly, Luger express his concerns to IPS of such a presence, stating: “When you bring miltarised people to a protest where people are just basically trying to protect their water, stuff gets ugly really fast.”

Earlier in September, security guards working for the pipeline company allegedly attacked Native Americans with dogs and pepper spray. At least 30 people were pepper sprayed and six, including a young child, were bitten by dogs. While speaking at the 33rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Archambault told UN officials of the incident, stating: “We stand in peace but have been met with violence.”

Energy Transfer Partners did not immediately respond to IPS’ requests for comment.

In a statement, the County Sheriff’s department said that it was protestors who became violent. “This was more like a riot than a protest. Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier. The Sheriff’s department is currently leading an investigation into the incident.

Confrontations have since continued leading to numerous arrests. Most recently, almost 30 people were arrested during protests on Monday following the ruling.

Mossett told IPS that if construction continues, there would only be more arrests of those protecting the river.

Also among those arrested since the movement began have been media personnel.

“The coverage of this issue is clearly a threat,” said Luger to IPS in response to media arrests.

“[The government is] focused on media folks because they are terrified of this information getting out,” he continued.

After filming and covering the incident with the dogs, Democracy Now! host and executive producer Amy Goodman was charged with criminal trespassing by North Dakota.

“This is an unacceptable violation of freedom of the press,” Amy Goodman said in a statement. “I was doing my job by covering pipeline guards unleashing dogs and pepper spray on Native American protestors,” she continued.

Larger than Just One Pipeline

As winter quickly approaches, Native Americans and allies are bracing themselves for the long haul.

“All of us are prepared to be at camp for as long as it takes,” Two Bulls told IPS.

But this is not just their fight, she added.

“Anybody that breathes air, lives on this land or drinks water—this is their fight too,” Two Bulls told IPS.

“This is much larger than this pipeline…it’s about [deconstructing] this system and [creating] another system that works in the benefit of all people,” she continued.

Luger echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “This is not an indigenous movement, this is a human movement…if there is a leak in the river, half of the country has the potential of being tainted by this.” But they cannot stop this danger alone, he said.

“I just hope that my children can go back to North Dakota and I can point out these geographical places and say this is our story, this is our history and we are from here. And look, that hill proves it,” Luger said.

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Amid South Africa’s Drought, Proposed Mine Raises Fears of Wetlands Impacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact/#comments Tue, 04 Oct 2016 20:06:46 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147212 A stream meanders through a wetland in Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga. The region is a Strategic Water Source Area, the segments of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that make up 8 percent of land area but account for 50 percent of water supply. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A stream meanders through a wetland in Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga. The region is a Strategic Water Source Area, the segments of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that make up 8 percent of land area but account for 50 percent of water supply. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

By Mark Olalde
JOHANNESBURG, Oct 4 2016 (IPS)

The dam supplying Johannesburg’s water sits less than 30 percent full. Water restrictions have been in place since November and taxes on high water use since August. Food prices across South Africa have risen about 10 percent from last year, in large part due to water shortages.

“If you’re going to have a large coal mine in [a protected area], what’s the point really?” -- Melissa Fourie
In the midst of one of the country’s worst droughts in recorded history, the government continues to permit new coal mines and coal-fired power plants. One mine in particular is gaining increased scrutiny, as it has been given nearly all the permits necessary to mine in a high yield water area called the Mabola Protected Environment in the Mpumalanga province.

Indian mining company Atha-Africa Ventures (Pty) Ltd’s proposed Yzermyn Underground Coal Mine would sit 160 miles southwest of Johannesburg in the catchments of three major rivers: the Vaal, the Tugela and the Pongola. The surrounding area also falls within a Strategic Water Source Area, the eight percent of land in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that accounts for 50 percent of water supply.

The proposed mine site is in the midst of numerous other protected and high importance demarcations such as the endangered Wakkerstroom Montane Grassland and the South Eastern Escarpment National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment Priority Area. The Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan labels the habitat of the proposed site as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.”

A southern masked weaver sits on a branch in the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve and Crane Sanctuary, a local tourist destination. The area is known for several endemic crane species, and the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan identifies it as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.” Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A southern masked weaver sits on a branch in the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve and Crane Sanctuary, a local tourist destination. The area is known for several endemic crane species, and the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan identifies it as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.” Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Because the mine would tunnel underneath Mabola, the Protected Areas Act prohibits mining unless a company obtains written permission from the directors of both the Department of Mineral Resources, DMR, and Department of Environmental Affairs, DEA.

The DMR signed off on the project when it granted a mining right in September 2014, just eight months after Mabola was declared protected. However, at a September hearing of the South African Human Rights Commission, a representative of the DMR falsely asserted under oath that the department would not allow mining in the area. The DEA has given no indication of Minister Edna Molewa’s plans regarding the mine.

Neither the DMR nor the DEA responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Melissa Fourie is the director of the Centre for Environmental Rights, which is spearheading litigation to slow the mine’s progress through the permitting procedure. She said the whole process has been “slight of hand” and “a lot of smoke and mirrors.”

“If you’re going to have a large coal mine in [a protected area], what’s the point really?” Fourie told IPS. “It affects not just that area, but it affects the whole country’s water resources and a whole lot of downstream users.”

The Vaal River System ultimately provides water for most of the country’s coal-fired electricity generation, as well as the country’s most populous province of Gauteng, and Fourie fears pollution from the mine would impact the system.

The underground Yzermyn mine would cover about 2,500 hectares of Atha-Africa’s 8,360 hectare mining right. Surface infrastructure would be kept to a minimum, although plans indicate a pollution control dam is to be built on a wetland.

Atha-Africa’s senior vice president Praveer Tripathi said, “The evidence that mining in that area is going to disturb the functionality of the wetland as well as any apprehensions about acid mine drainage were very, very scant.” According to Tripathi and the environmental authorisation, mitigation will include recharging wetlands, onsite water treatment and sealing of the shafts post-closure.

Tripathi argued that a nearby abandoned mine is dry, which would suggest Yzermyn might not flood and cause acid mine drainage. However, it took several iterations of consultants’ reports to reach the conclusion that the mine would have minimal environmental impacts. “There was concerns raised by our own specialists about some of the negative effects of some activities,” Tripathi said.

Farmer and chairman of the Mabola Protected Environment Oubaas Malan points out his farm from the proposed mine site. Because the mine would tunnel under a legally protected environment, it requires the written approval of the ministers of both the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Environmental Affairs. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Farmer and chairman of the Mabola Protected Environment Oubaas Malan points out his farm from the proposed mine site. Because the mine would tunnel under a legally protected environment, it requires the written approval of the ministers of both the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Environmental Affairs. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Angus Burns, senior manager for the Land and Biodiversity Stewardship Programme at WWF-SA, was active in the movement to demarcate protected areas. “The precedent that can be set by the allowance of this kind of activity within a protected environment opens up, I believe, a floodgate of opportunities for any mining company to challenge protected environments,” he said.

The water use license granted to Atha-Africa allows the company to use 22 Olympic size swimming pools-worth of water annually, dewater the underground area it would mine and pump a limited amount of treated effluent into wetlands.

In a statement, Tsunduka Khosa, the director of water use licensing at the Department of Water and Sanitation said: “The water use licence granted contains a set of conditions aimed at mitigating the possible impacts…South Africa is water scarce country. Therefore all activities that have a potential to impact water resources are considered serious to the Department and all available water resources are sensitive.”

Mining opponents also claim political ties helped push this mine through a stringent permitting process. One of Atha-Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment partners called Bashubile Trust has several trustees with connections to President Jacob Zuma. Sizwe Zuma, one of the trustees, is alleged to be the president’s relative – although Atha-Africa denies this – and in court documents Sizwe Zuma listed his residential address as the presidential estate in Pretoria.

Bashubile did not respond to requests for comment. Mpumalanga’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs, which acknowledged all the protected areas yet still granted the environmental authorization, also did not respond.

Regardless of permits, much of the population in nearby Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga, is afraid that mining would severely impact the current economy, which is reliant on livestock farming and ecotourism.

Johan Uys works on his family’s farm near Wakkerstroom and said his children will be the sixth generation to farm there. “Most of the people that are from Wakkerstroom are against mining, but there are the people that don’t have jobs that are for the mining because there are these promises that are made,” he said, citing the racial disparity between wealthy white landowners and poor black communities in town.

Wakkerstroom residents from the black community said they would only want mining if Atha-Africa pledged environmental protection and sustainable job growth. The company estimates that 500 direct jobs will be created and 2,000 indirect, although the mine is only expected to operate for 15 years.

“We know from very bitter experience that this hardly ever transpires,” Fourie said of the job creation estimates. “So often those jobs are not local jobs.”

Mark Olalde’s mining investigations are financially supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Additional support was provided by #MineAlert and Code for Africa.

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Environmental Crimes Could Warrant International Criminal Court Prosecutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/environmental-crimes-could-warrant-international-criminal-court-prosecutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=environmental-crimes-could-warrant-international-criminal-court-prosecutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/environmental-crimes-could-warrant-international-criminal-court-prosecutions/#comments Sat, 01 Oct 2016 20:13:50 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147186 The International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Phoebe Braithwaite
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 1 2016 (IPS)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) will pay more attention to crimes of environmental destruction and land-grabs, according to a new policy paper published by the court.

This may see business executives and government officials in cahoots to exploit natural resources prosecuted for crimes that displace millions. 38.9 billion hectares – an area the size of Germany – has been leased to investors in resource-rich but cash-poor countries since 2000, Alice Harrison, Director of Communications at Global Witness, told IPS.

“It is an important acknowledgement that crimes against humanity are not exclusively perpetrated by warlords in so-called failed states, they can also be linked back to company directors in our financial capitals,” she said. The ICC has been criticised since it was set up in 2002 for convicting too few people and being too expensive. African leaders have also accused the courts of unfairly targeting their continent.

According to the policy paper, the court will pay special attention to crimes committed in light of “the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the illegal dispossession of land” in the selection of cases. The proposal does not increase the Hague-based court’s mandate, established by the Rome Statute in 1998 to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This has been hailed as a landmark shift in international criminal law that could reshape the way business is done in poorer countries. Global Witness have said that it shows the ICC adapting to the “modern dynamics of conflict,” to violations and displacements which happen in times of peace.

There are hopes that this change in policy signals good news for hundreds of thousands of victims of land grabbing in Cambodia, ten of whom are represented by international criminal law firm Global Diligence LLP, and whose case is currently under review at the ICC.

This has been hailed as a landmark shift in international criminal law that could reshape the way business is done in poorer countries.

“The government talks about poverty reduction, but what they are really trying to do is to get rid of the poor. They destroy us by taking our forested land, 70 percent of the population has to disappear, so that 30 percent can live on. Under Pol Pot we died quickly, but we kept our forests. Under the democratic system it is a slow, protracted death. There will be violence, because we do not want to die,” a Cambodian victim of land grabbing recounts.

Speaking to IPS, Richard Rogers, who lodged the case with the ICC, said this is an indication that Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda “has accepted the argument of Global Diligence and others that the systemic crimes committed under the guise of ‘development’ are no less damaging to victims than many wartime atrocities – forced population displacement destroys entire communities and leads to massive suffering.”

“I feel very confident that the ICC Prosecutor will soon move forward with the case that I filed relating to the land grabbing and forcible evictions in Cambodia,” he said. “That case is a perfect test case for the new policy.”

But Senior Appeals Counsel at the ICC, Helen Brady, has disputed any connection between the two situations, saying that the Cambodian victims’ case and the policy document are “two completely separate things. We wrote a policy, and separately, we have under analysis in our office a preliminary examination going into the Cambodian [case],” she told IPS.

Brady, who also chaired the working group that came up with the policy document, stressed that the court’s policy on the selection of individual cases, which takes place after the decision to commence a full investigation into an overall series of crimes, is a distinct issue from whether the court decides to formally declare a preliminary examination into the Cambodian victims’ case, which will be determined by different means laid out in a policy document published in November 2013.

In fact, this earlier document already determines that cases where there is “social, economic and environmental damage inflicted on the affected communities” will be given special attention.

Yet it is clear that the recent announcement describes these kinds of environmental crime in more detail, even specifically mentioning “land grabbing” in its introduction. Paying heed to other major watchwords of supranational judicial bodies, it also refers to the increased vulnerability of victims instilled by terror, and of the trafficking of arms and persons.

Perhaps this isn’t the watershed moment environmental activists have been campaigning for, but it remains a promising step towards accountability for the victims of environmental crimes. “I think it’s highly important and it’s not just symbolic – it means something,” the ICC’s Helen Brady said.

Legal experts have played down the significance of the shift since the ICC’s mandate has not changed, with some saying this looks more like an attempt for the ICC to work with national judicial authorities in helping them to prosecute crimes of this kind, provided for in the paper’s seventh clause.

As it stands the ICC can only prosecute Rome Statute crimes if the perpetrator comes from one of the 124 countries that have ratified its statute, or if the UN refers a case. Three of the five members of the UN Security Council – the US, Russia and China – have not ratified the court’s statute and can veto crimes referred to it.

Nevertheless, as Rogers argues, should the Cambodian victims see a fair hearing, prosecution for environmental crimes would be entering new waters: “the impact of the new ICC focus can be enormous. Those who commit land grabbing and related crimes have a lot to lose – they tend to be government ministers and businessmen with reputations to protect. Therefore, they are far more likely to change their behavior than regular war criminals,” Rogers said.

In Cambodia, 10 percent of the country’s land has already been carved up among 230 companies. There are estimates that 770,000 people have been affected by land grabs in Cambodia since 2000, 6 percent of Cambodia’s total population.

“Chasing communities off their land and trashing the environment has become a common and accepted way of doing business,” Harrison said.

“More than three people a week – ordinary citizens – are murdered for defending their land, forests and rivers against destructive industries like mining, logging and agribusiness. These numbers are increasing. In 2015 we documented 185 deaths – by far the highest annual death toll on record.”

Women are disproportionately targeted in these killings, which were brought greater attention after Honduran activist Berta Caceres’ high profile murder in March.

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Unregulated Promotion of Mining in Malawi Brings Hazards and Hardshipshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/unregulated-promotion-of-mining-in-malawi-brings-hazards-and-hardships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unregulated-promotion-of-mining-in-malawi-brings-hazards-and-hardships http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/unregulated-promotion-of-mining-in-malawi-brings-hazards-and-hardships/#comments Tue, 27 Sep 2016 08:01:37 +0000 Birgit Schwarz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147104 Nagomba E., 75, standing where her house used to be in Mwabulambo, Karonga district. She and her family were told to relocate in 2008 because the land was needed for coal mining. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Nagomba E., 75, standing where her house used to be in Mwabulambo, Karonga district. She and her family were told to relocate in 2008 because the land was needed for coal mining. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

By Birgit Schwarz
LILONGWE, Sep 27 2016 (IPS)

Nagomba E. is no longer young; her hip is giving her trouble and her back is stooped from years of bending over her corn and rice fields. Yet every morning, at the crack of dawn, the wiry 74-year-old sets out on a strenuous half-hour walk to fetch water from a nearby river so that her ailing husband can take a bath. Despite her limp, Nagomba moves fast and with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat.

It would be easier for her to fetch her water from a borehole that is closer to her house. But the water is often “bad” she says, “you cannot even use it for bathing.” Besides, she adds, “if you oversleep, you are there till noon,” waiting for a turn at the pump.

Before coal was discovered in Mwabulambo, a remote rural community of Karonga District in northern Malawi, water was never something Nagomba and her neighbours would have to worry about or even line up for.

“I used to have two taps right at my house,” Nagomba says, “with running water in the kitchen and bathroom.” But then heavy trucks moved in — which turned out to belong to a mining company. The company, with government’s approval, claimed her land, forced her to relocate to the edge of the coal field further south, and tore down her house. With it went the taps and water pipes.

That was almost nine years ago. Since then, the coal mine, which Nagomba and her neighbours hoped would bring progress and development, has mainly caused regression, hazards, and hardship.

Over the past decade, Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, has promoted private investment in mining and resource extraction as a way to grow and diversify its largely agriculture-based economy. Karonga, where Nagomba lives, is the country’s test case for industrial mining.

Malawi’s first uranium mine and two of the country’s biggest coal mines are located here, on the western shores of Lake Malawi. The government said the mines would provide jobs and improve people’s livelihoods. Schools were promised, and clinics as well as boreholes to restore access to drinking water. Hardly any of these promises ever materialized.

Weak enforcement of existing laws and policies combined with lack of transparency and community involvement in decision making have left local communities unprotected and in the dark about their rights and about the risks mining activities might pose to their daily lives, Human Rights Watch says in a new report, “They Destroyed Everything.” Mining companies meanwhile are allowed to monitor themselves and are almost never held to account if they cause devastation.

When strangers knocked on her door during the 2008 rainy season and told her that she would have to move to make room for a coal mine, Nagomba was taken by surprise.

Nagomba, who supported three grandchildren and her sick husband with the income from farming a small but fertile plot of land, eventually accepted the inevitable, thinking that she would get “a lot of money.” She never asked how much, however. As it turned out, the compensation was not even enough to rebuild her house. The family had to sell two cows to put a roof over their heads again. She received no money for the land itself. It was “customary land” that her family had farmed for generations, but for which they held no individual title.

Mining machinery left behind at Eland coal mine at Mwabulambo after closure in 2015. Locals said that before the mine was closed, they were not informed about the closure or how the company intended to mitigate risks stemming from the abandoned mining site. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Mining machinery left behind at Eland coal mine at Mwabulambo after closure in 2015. Locals said that before the mine was closed, they were not informed about the closure or how the company intended to mitigate risks stemming from the abandoned mining site. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Over the years, Nagomba’s story repeated itself again and again in the mining areas of Karonga. In Mwabulambo alone, more than 30 households were relocated from their customary land between 2008 and 2015, when the mining company suspended operations. At times, the bulldozers moved in so fast that people had neither time to rebury their loved ones interred on the community’s land, nor to finish reconstructing their homes. One family spent weeks sleeping under a tree before they could move into their rebuilt house.

The mine is owned and operated by Eland Coal Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Isle of Man-based Heavy Mineral Limited, which in turn is owned by Independent Oil & Resources PLC – a company based in Cyprus. Although it has not been operational for more than a year, it continues to affect the area, its water resources, and Nagomba’s source of income, her crops.

“We used to grow corn, cassava and rice,” she recalls. “Now we are complaining of hunger.” The fields she was given lie on the edge of the mine. Every time it rains, blackish, potentially acidic, mine water runs into her fields, withering her crop and diminishing her yield. “We cannot afford to buy food. We need to farm,” she says. “But they have destroyed the land where we were producing fruit, and left us behind with nothing.”

Since the mine’s closure, the community has tried to get the company to clean up, restore their broken pipes, ensure that mine water no longer seeps into their borehole and onto their fields, and close the deep pits that were left behind. In 2015, the villagers went to the District Commissioner’s Office to air their grievances. Getting no help there, they marched to the gates of the company. “We told them ‘you are really wronging us,’” Nagomba recalls. “We don’t have water. We don’t have food. But we are still waiting for an answer.”

To this day, residents fear that the borehole and river water is putting their health at risk. Cows and even children have fallen into ill-secured, water-filled pits the company left behind. And villagers say the pits themselves have become breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitos.

“If they had built a health center, they could at least have saved some lives from malaria,” says Rojaina, another community member who was forced to relocate. As the promised clinic was never built and the nearest hospital is miles away in town, “people die on the way,” she says.

Few are aware of the dangers the water in the pits itself poses. The government had the water tested last year. These tests confirmed that the water is acidic, the deputy director for water quality at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water told Human Rights Watch, which means that it is neither safe for consumption nor bathing. But the results have never been made public. Children regularly swim in the pits behind Nagomba’s house. And no signs warn of the dangers these pools pose to human health.

Now that Nagomba no longer has piped water, she depends on the river a lot, particularly during dry season, when borehole and well run dry, walking there up to four times a day to fetch water for bathing, drinking and cooking. She worries about the safety of the river water, too, but at least she can treat it with chemicals the government provided after a cholera outbreak at the beginning of the year.

The river Nagomba depends on flows into Lake Malawi, a fragile ecosystem and a key source of livelihood for over 1.5 million people. More than 10 extraction projects are located on the lake’s shores and tributaries, which are protected UNESCO World Heritage sites. Not all are active yet. But the risks these mining activities pose to the lake’s ecosystem and to the bordering communities’ health and livelihoods are enormous without proper government oversight.

So far, Malawi’s law has failed to protect the needs and rights of mining communities like Nagomba’s and her neighbours’ from the adverse effect mining has had on their lives. It has also failed to protect their environment and water resources. A new mining bill being drafted could help change this, strengthening governmental control over mining projects and the communities’ right to know.

Malawi’s government has taken some steps in the right direction, and acknowledged the need to enforce a rehabilitation plan the owners of the defunct Mwabulambo mine had promised to carry out. So far the company has done nothing.

“I never had problems,” says Nagomba, recalling a time where there was enough to eat and safe water to drink. “The mining company brought me problems.” After nine years of suffering and hunger without protection from the government or the mining company, she has little hope that things will change for the better in her lifetime. “Time is already up,” she says in a voice that sounds as if she is reciting poetry. “We are just waiting to go to our graves now.”

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New Government Inherits Conflict over Peru’s Biggest Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru/#comments Sat, 17 Sep 2016 01:37:38 +0000 Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146972 Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar
LIMA/CHALLHUAHUACHO , Sep 17 2016 (IPS)

Of the 150 socioeconomic conflicts related to the extractive industries that Peru’s new government inherited, one of the highest-profile is the protest by the people living near the biggest mining project in the history of the country: Las Bambas.

The enormous open-pit copper mine in the district of Challhuahuacho, in the southern department of Apurímac, is operated by the Chinese-Australian company MMG Limited, controlled by China Minmetals Corporation, which invested more than 10 billion dollars in its first project in Latin America.

Peru, where mining is the backbone of the economy, is the third-largest copper producer in the world and the fifth-largest gold producer.

Las Bambas, which started operating in January, is projected to have an initial annual production of 400,000 tons of copper concentrate.

The conflict reached its peak in September 2015 when three people were killed and 29 wounded in a clash between local residents and the police. The former government of Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) assembled a working group to address local demands.

The working group’s first meeting since conservative President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski took office on Jul. 28 was held on Aug. 22.

“We don’t want conflicts. But if we give you the mine, we have to set conditions,” Daniel Olivera, a local farmer from the community of Ccayao, told IPS with regard to the neglected demands of people living around the mine, which has reserves of 7.2 million metric tons of copper, in addition to molybdenum and other minerals.

The working group was set up in February, to address four issues: human rights, environment, sustainable development with public investment, and corporate social responsibility.

The only concrete result achieved so far, according to the representatives of the Quechua communities surrounding the mine, was compensation for the families of the three people killed in the violent clash.

The last session took place Sep. 7-8, but it mainly dealt with technical aspects. The head of the Front for the Defence of the Interests of the Province of Cotatambas, Rodolfo Abarca, told IPS that he expects the next meetings, scheduled for October, to deal with “substantive issues”.

The mine’s three open pits and the processing facilities are located 4,000 metres above sea level in the Andes mountains, between the Cotabambas and Grau provinces in the Apurímac region.

The Front demands that an independent study be carried out in order to shed light on the origins of the conflict: the changes approved by the Ministry of Mines and Energy to the environmental impact assessment of the project, without consulting the local population, in spite of the potential impact on the water sources, soil and air.

The most controversial move was made in 2013 when the authorities allowed the transfer of the plant that separates molybdenum from copper, from Tintaya in the neighboring region of Cuzco, to Fuerabamba, in Cotatambas.

 Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS


Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

The transfer meant new studies were necessary to measure the potential environmental impacts at the new site. But this step was disregarded in the supporting technical report, according to the environmental engineers who went through the more than 1,500 pages of project records with the team from the investigative journalism site Convoca.

While the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the mining company Las Bambas saw these changes as minor and involving insignificant impacts, the experts said they were significant modifications that required a closer analysis.

The supporting technical report is part of a simplification of requirements carried out by Humala’s government in 2013 through decree 054-2013-PCM, aimed at accelerating private investment in the country.

Among the simplifications was a new rule that the local population no longer has to be consulted before allowing changes in environmental impact studies, on the assumption that these changes only affect secondary components of the project or expansions for technological improvements.

Convoca’s journalists told IPS that the environmental engineers informed them that in the case of Las Bambas, the technical supporting report was used to rapidly justify changes, without having to conduct specific studies to prevent potential environmental impacts, and to avoid consulting local communities.

The technical supporting report also made it possible for the minerals to be transported by truck, instead of only through pipelines as in the past. As a result, the trucks have been throwing up clouds of dust since January, a problem that has further fuelled the local protests.

The company told Convoca via email that they use “sealed containers” and that they spray the roads with water before the trucks drive by.

With the removal of the requirement for pipelines went the hopes of people in the 20 farming communities and four small towns in four different districts, who expected to lease or sell the lands crossed by the pipelines that were projected in the initial environmental impact assessment.

The decision “hit us like a bucket of cold water… It’s very sad,” added Olivera, who is from a community where the pipelines were supposed to cross.

The environmental engineers argued that what should have been done was a study of the environmental impact caused by the transport of minerals by truck instead of through a pipeline.

They also said a health impact assessment was needed after the relocation of the filtration plant, “since besides copper, molybdenum is also processed and produced, which is harmful to human health,” causing liver failure and different types of arthritis.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy said by email that the relocation of “the molybdenum plant, as well as the filtration area and the concentrate storage facility,” only required a technical supporting report because the management plan approved for the plant was not modified.

Moreover, they said the area of influence of the project was reduced, and argued that a plan approved to recirculate the mining process water was an “improvement.”

The company said that before submitting their report, it “identified and evaluated the impacts that would be generated in each case,” and concluded that “they would not be significant.”

In his inaugural address, President Kuczynski said he would demand compliance with all environmental regulations and would respect the views of every citizen regarding a project’s environmental impact.

But the former vice minister of environmental management, José de Echave, pointed out to IPS that “there is no mechanism for public participation,” even when local residents are not opposed to a project.

According to the ombudsperson’s office there are 221 unresolved social conflicts in Peru, 150 (71 percent) of which are centered on territories where extractive projects are being carried out and have an environmental component.

De Echave said the government should create strategies to monitor social conflicts and deal with them through dialogue with government agencies.

Access to land is another issue behind the social conflict in Las Bambas.

There are 16 families in the village of Taquiruta, on the edge of the town of Fuerabamba, who live very close to the centre of operations of Las Bambas and refuse to leave their homes and parcels of land until the company provides them with fair compensation. The minerals are under the ground where their houses sit.

They are the only ones that until now have not left. Over the last two years, more than 400 families have been relocated to a new settlement, half an hour away from the community, named Nueva Fuerabamba (new Fuerabamba).

De Echave said the government should implement a land-use planning law to anticipate potential conflicts over access to natural resources.

With reporting by Alicia Tovar (Lima).

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Communities See Tourism Gold in Derelict Bougainville Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/communities-see-tourism-gold-in-derelict-bougainville-mine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=communities-see-tourism-gold-in-derelict-bougainville-mine http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/communities-see-tourism-gold-in-derelict-bougainville-mine/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 10:32:39 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146821 Landowner Lynette Ona, along with local leaders and villagers in the Panguna mine area, look to tourism as a sustainable economic alternative to large-scale mining in post-conflict Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Landowner Lynette Ona, along with local leaders and villagers in the Panguna mine area, look to tourism as a sustainable economic alternative to large-scale mining in post-conflict Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PANGUNA, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

The Panguna copper mine, located in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, has been derelict for 27 years since an armed campaign by local landowners forced its shutdown and triggered a decade-long civil war in the late 1980s.

The former Rio Tinto majority-owned extractive venture hit world headlines when the Nasioi became the world’s first indigenous people to compel a major multinational to abandon one of its most valuable investments during a bid to defend their land against environmental destruction."That is what we were fighting for: environment, land and culture." -- Lynette Ona

Today, local leaders and entrepreneurs, including former combatants, see the site playing a key role in sustainable development, but not as a functioning mine.

“Our future is very, very dangerous if we reopen the Panguna mine. Because thousands of people died, we are not going to reopen the mine. We must find a new way to build the economy,” Philip Takaung, vice president of the Panguna-based Mekamui Tribal Government, told IPS.

He and many local villagers envisage tourists visiting the enigmatic valley in the heart of the Crown Prince Ranges to stay in eco-lodges and learn of its extraordinary history.

“It is not just the mine site; families could build places to serve traditional local food for visitors. We have to build a special place where visitors can experience our local food and culture,” villager Christine Nobako added. Others spoke of the appeal of the surrounding rainforest-covered peaks to trekkers and bird watchers.

An estimated 20,000 people in Bougainville, or 10 percent of the population, lost their lives during the conflict, known as the ‘Crisis.’ Opposition by local communities to the mine, apparent from the exploration phase in the 1960s, intensified after operations began in 1972 by Australian subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd, when they claimed mine tailings were destroying agricultural land and polluting nearby rivers used as sources of freshwater and fish. Hostilities quickly spread in 1989 after the company refused to meet landowners’ demands for compensation and a civil war raged until a ceasefire in 1998.

In the shell of a former mine building, IPS spoke with Takaung and Lynette Ona, local landowner and niece of Francis Ona, the late Bougainville Revolutionary Army leader. A short distance away, the vast six-kilometre-long mine pit is a silent reminder of state-corporate ambition gone wrong.

According to Ona, the remarkable story of how a group of villagers thwarted the power and zeal of a global mining company is a significant chapter in the history of the environmental movement “because that is what we were fighting for; environment, land and culture.” And, as such, she says, makes Panguna a place of considerable world interest.

Zhon Bosco Miriona, managing director of Bougainville Experience Tours, a local tourism company based in the nearby town of Arawa, which caters to about 50-100 international tourists per year, agrees.

“Panguna is one of the historical sites in Bougainville. People go up to Panguna to see for themselves the damage done and want to know more about why the Bougainville Crisis erupted,” he said.

In a recent survey of Panguna communities by Australian non-government organisation, Jubilee Australia, tourism was identified as the second most popular economic alternative to mining after horticulture and animal farming. Although realising the industry’s full potential requires challenges for local entrepreneurs, such as access to finance and skills development, being addressed.

Objection here to the return of mining is related not only to the deep scars of the violent conflict, but also the role it is believed to have had in increasing inequality. For example, of a population of about 150,000 in the 1980s, only 1,300 were employed in the mine’s workforce, while the vast majority of its profits, which peaked at 1.7 billion kina (US$527 million), were claimed by Rio Tinto and the Papua New Guinea government.

Today, post-war reconstruction and human development progress in Bougainville is very slow, while the population has doubled to around 300,000. One third of children are not in school, less than 1 percent of the population have access to electricity and the maternal mortality rate could be as high as 690 per 100,000 live births, estimates the United Nations Development Program.

People want an economy which supports equitable prosperity and long term peace and local experts see unlimited possibilities for tourism on these tropical islands which lie just south of the equator and boast outstanding natural beauty

“In terms of doing eco-tourism, Bougainville has the rawness. There are the forests, the lakes, the sea, the rivers and wetlands,” Lawrence Belleh, Director of Bougainville’s Tourism Office in the capital, Buka, told IPS.

Bougainville was also the site of battles during World War II and many relics from the presence of Australian, New Zealand, American and Japanese forces can be seen along the Numa Numa Trail, a challenging 60-kilometre trek from Bougainville Island’s east to west coasts.

“There are a lot of things that are not told about Bougainville, the historical events which happened during World War II and also the stories which the ex-combatants [during the Crisis] have, which they can tell…..we have a story to tell, we can share with you if you are coming over,” Belleh enthused.

Improving local infrastructure, such as transport and accommodation, and dispelling misperceptions of post-conflict Bougainville are priorities for the tourism office in a bid to increase visitor confidence.

“Many people would perceive Bougainville as an unsafe place to come and visit, but that was some years back. In fact, Bougainville is one of the safest places [for tourists] in Papua New Guinea. The people are very friendly, they will greet you, take you to their homes and show you around,” Belleh said.

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