The indelicate balance of ethics against profit

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Mining and biodiversity conservation in Africa

18 october 2021

Krasnoyarsk hosted an international ecological summit, "Siberian Perspectives," which was held in this city on October 1-2, 2021. Its participants discussed the role of large industrial businesses in biodiversity conservation. Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the Africa Bureau at Rough&Polished made a presentation at the event comparing the positive and negative experiences of mining companies in crisis situations and their actions to protect the environment and promote biodiversity.

CATOCA

“Poorly managed mining operations can pollute the environment and damage the biodiversity that underpins economies, provides food, fuel, building materials, and freshwater…” - The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

We saw this when researchers at Kinshasa University were quoted in the media as saying last August that satellite imagery and interviews revealed that a reservoir used to store mining pollutants allegedly breached mid-July in a diamond-mining area stretching from Lunda Sul to Lunda Norte provinces in Angola.

As a result, two tributaries of the Congo River, the Tshikapa and Kasai rivers, turned red, killing fish and hippopotamuses as well as causing diarrhea amongst communities along their banks.

Congo's environment minister Eve Bazaiba later alleged that the pollution of the rivers had been caused by a toxic substance spill at an industrial diamond mine in Angola owned by Catoca, which produces 75% of Angola’s diamonds.

A few weeks later, the DRC government said 12 people had died as a result of the pollution, while 4,400 were left sick.

Bazaiba then said the DRC will seek reparations in line with the “polluter pays” principle.

However, Catoca recently denied leaking heavy metals from its mine into the Tshikapa River and adjacent areas.

It said that it will carry out an investigative expedition along the Tshikapa River to the border with the DRC and that the results of this expedition aim to refute the accusations made by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Catoca said it did not dump toxic products into the Tshikapa River and adjacent areas, since the company does not use chemical products in its production process.

"We refute all accusations, however within the framework of our social responsibility and due to the strong commitment, we have to the preservation of the environment, we decided to create a multidisciplinary team, which includes representatives from ministries, universities, provincial directorates, NGOs, and independent laboratories, which is carrying out this expedition and very soon we will make a public presentation of its results.”

Nornikel

The Catoca debacle reminds the people of the leakage of diesel from a cracked tank at Nornickel's power plant last year.

While Catoca is entitled to its opinion, it refuted allegations of polluting the DRC rivers before it obtained the results of its investigations.

Such a move puts the diamond company in a difficult position given that their accusers are armed with satellite images that clearly show the source of the pollution.

Nornickel handled the leakage of the diesel differently. The other experts were closely watching what Nornikel had been doing after the leakage. They saw that Nornikel admitted the problem, neutralised, compensated, fixed the problem, and started implementing some development programmes.

The Russian nickel and palladium mining and smelting company made positive changes in policy and approaches to interaction with the indigenous minorities of Taimyr after the diesel spill.

It developed its new Integrated Environmental Strategy that was approved by the company’s board of directors last June.

The strategy defines six key areas in environmental protection and sets the targets the company expects to achieve by 2030.

These are climate change, air, water resources, tailings and waste management, land rehabilitation, and ensuring biodiversity.

Nornickel has operations near Taimyr, a region with more than 10,000 people of the indigenous minorities of the North.

It signed a five-year agreement on the implementation of its comprehensive plan to assist the development of the indigenous minorities of the North for a total amount of 2 billion roubles.

These include traditional activities, protecting the original human environment, as well as funding for housing, health care, infrastructure, tourist social, and cultural projects.

There is also another good example to mention from the mining industry.

Diamond Route

This project, which was launched at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, is a collection of biodiversity conservation sites and nature reserves, owned and managed by De Beers Group and Debswana that span 200,000 hectares across southern Africa.

It initially comprised of conservation properties from De Beers Group and E Oppenheimer and Son. It now covers a range of De Beers Group properties within South Africa and Botswana.

The Diamond Route comprises eight sites covering around 200,000 hectares and stretches from the Succulent Karoo of Namaqualand on South Africa’s west coast to the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve on the country’s northern border, right up to the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana with the Orapa Game Park.

De Beers and National Geographic also launched end of August this year the Okavango Eternal, a strategic partnership to help protect Africa’s endangered species, ensure water and food security for more than one million people, and develop livelihood opportunities for 10,000 people.

The diamond group said the five-year commitment is focused on working hand-in-hand with communities throughout Okavango to deliver shared ecological solutions that lead to collective economic opportunity.

The Okavango Basin, spanning southern Angola, eastern Namibia, and northern Botswana, is the main source of water for the Okavango Delta.

The National Geographic Explorer said the Okavango River Basin is under threat and their partnership with De Beers will help protect this natural wonder.

 The Okavango Delta is one of Africa’s most important ecosystems, unrivaled in its biodiversity, and home to the world’s largest remaining elephant population as well as lions, cheetahs, wild dogs, and hundreds of species of birds.

The Okavango Delta’s health is dependent on its source lakes and rivers, which carry water that originates as rain in Angola’s highlands.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished