Ordinary Malawians have Limited Protection Against a Growing Mining Industry

(by Boshra Yazahmeidi)

Villagers living adjacent to the World Heritage-listed Lake Malawi have been forced to give up their land and homes to mining companies with inadequate compensation, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.

The report identified numerous issues of concern around the actions of mining companies searching for coal and uranium in the area.  Information was lacking about the health and environmental risks of the nearby mines, and villagers were concerned for their health, safety, crops, and water.  Often, villagers didn’t even know that mining would be starting in their communities until the day they were asked to leave, the report found.

According to one woman from Karonga district, “Since the mining came we have had many problems.  The coal is in our gardens and running into our fields.  The way the crops look, you would think that someone had poured petrol on them.”

A woman from Kayelekera recalled: “The people from the company came to us and said they wanted to build a police station where our house was.… They didn’t give us any notice and just chased us away.  Two of our goats died because of a bulldozer.  They were in a cage and couldn’t escape while we were busy protecting our furniture.… We couldn’t say anything because the machines were already there.  We didn’t manage to save all our belongings.  We lost some pots, bags and many other things.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 150 community members, government officials, civil society groups, and mining company representatives between July 2015 and July 2016 to assess the impact of the nascent mining industry in Malawi.

The report, which found compensation for resettlement was either inadequate or non-existent, highlights how an extractives industry has flourished in Malawi while the country’s laws and safeguards have proved inadequate to protect communities affected by the mining.  As such, it concludes with a list of recommendations for the Government of Malawi and its respective Ministries, as well as the mining companies.

Human Rights Watch researcher Katharina Rall said: “Malawi shouldn’t repeat the mistakes made in resource extraction in other countries in southern Africa.  It is not enough to create a fertile investment climate for mining companies. The government urgently needs to protect the rights of affected communities.”

Over the past 10 years, Malawi’s government has been promoting private investment in resource extraction as a means to diversify the country’s predominantly agricultural economy.  A high number of prospecting licenses have been issued all over the country including around Lake Malawi, a World Heritage protected fragile ecosystem and source of livelihood for over 1.5 million Malawians.

A copy of the report can be accessed here.

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