January 29, 2012

Foreign mining companies criticized for disrupting lives of villagers

According to a report, Australian and Brazilian mining giants are moving villagers to land insufficient for farming and far from jobs to make way for coal projects in central Mozambique. Then they are sidelining local entrepreneurs as they exploit the region's natural resources. The independent Southern Africa Resource Watch, which monitors the impact of mining across the region, sent researchers to study resettlement efforts by Rio Tinto of Australia and Vale of Brazil. Both companies have begun mining in Mozambique recently.

Villagers protested over the resettlement earlier in January. Enraged at the way they have been resettled, hundreds of protestors blocked the railway line that transports coal from the massive new mines in Tete Province to the coast – demanding that the companies fulfil their obligations to the thousands of people who had been moved from their lands to make way for the mines. The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, which supports the work of the mining watchdog, said in a statement that the protests brought to light that "Vale and Rio Tinto have treated the people they resettled without care -- indeed with contempt." Vale has now promised to resolve all the problems at the Cateme resettlement area within six months. But the company has failed to abide by many of its previous promises to the people it resettled – and few believe this latest pledge.

The watchdog's researchers spoke to Mozambicans who complained of being moved before promised classrooms and clinics were built in their new villages, and of having to rely on water delivered by truck because no other water is available. The new communities are far from the nearest town, and connected to it by poor roads, the researchers found. "Local communities are always excited when they see mining starting ... because they expect to be employed by the mining company," the report said. "But the two companies have moved people far away -- up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) -- from the mine, depriving them of opportunities."

And so far, the report further shows, Rio Tinto and Vale are buying goods and services to develop their projects from foreign companies, leaving local entrepreneurs on the sidelines. The researchers added that while the new communities had enough land for houses, they lacked land for farming, the main way most of the villagers earn their subsistence living. The researchers also said there were competing claims to the land where the villagers had been settled. The companies had not responded to requests for comment by now. (AIM)

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