By - Adedoyin Shittu
Despite being the number one mining nation in the world, China is facing a rapid depletion of its local mineral resources. In order to sustain its high rate of economic growth, an increasingly affluent and expanding middle class, and secure long-term sustainable supplies for its ambitious economic development strategy, China needs huge amounts of minerals, from metallic and non-metallic minerals to energy minerals. This has brought them to Africa. Africa is rich in mineral resources and many world-class deposits have been discovered in recent years. Every country in Africa is renowned for more than one solid mineral resources and this has made the continent attractive to investors most especially the Chinese who want to stockpile their depleting mineral resources.
South Africa controls 95% of the world Platinum Group Metal (PGM) reserves. The country also produces 52% of the world’s chromium and it is the biggest producer of ilmenite and the second biggest producer of vanadium.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the richest places on earth, produces 60% of the world’ coltan, 50% of the world’s cobalt and host about half of the global reserves for cobalt. The country is also one of the top producers of copper, diamond and tantalum.
Guinea is one of the top producers of bauxite, and the country is number one in bauxite reserves.
Ghana is one of the top producers of gold and the country is also rich in bauxite, industrial diamond, manganese and timber.
These African countries have experienced the influx of Chinese miners over the years and other nationalities, interested in tapping into their mineral riches.
Unlike countries in the West, many of these mineral resources are untapped, and that provides excellent greenfield development potential.
Nigeria, an oil rich country has also seen a surge of Chinese migrants, but along with their interest comes troubles. Though the Chinese are not the only foreign miners in the country but they make up the bulk of it. Many of them came across their mining licence through shady means and the terms and conditions that follow suit is also questionable and marred with irregularities due to the level of corruption in the country. The Chinese are also not known for the best mining practices and environmental sustainability, in fact they have a poor reputation and standing in the world with respect to mining practices.
Impact of mining to the environment
Mining is associated with environmental damage and hazards especially when it does not adhere to the environmental code, it is bound to leave the environment in ruins. Vegetation in the form of natural forest or crop plantation is always the first casualty to suffer in any mining exercise.
Igbesa and Ejila communities in Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government Areas of Ogun State are no stranger to the negative effects mining has on the environment. The community leaders and landowners told News Reporters during a visit to the communities that over 485 hectares of farmland had so far been destroyed by the Chinese aside the 650 hectares of land allocated to them for the establishment of Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone.
Mr Adebayo Akinola, a food technologist, had his 21 acres of land and 10 acres of cassava plantation worth over 10 million Naira destroyed by the Chinese miners.
Another landowner identified as Brother Seun, had his poultry farm fence destroyed.
A retired Headmistress, Mrs Kudirat Awoleye, told reporters that her coconut, Kolanuts, palm-trees and cocoa plantations which she inherited from her parents were also destroyed by mining activities of the Chinese.
Agricultural lands are converted into mines and this cost some peasant farmers their source of livelihood. Mining also causes the destruction of land natural landscape, especially because of the uncontrolled manner these miners operate. The Chinese explorers haphazardly excavates sand and pit trenches into the ground in many areas. This results in a kind of artificial bad land topography, which consequently renders the land impossible to cultivate for agricultural purposes. They also generates heaps of rock wastes that cannot be easily disposed off. This alteration of the landscape almost invariably creates a problem of erosion in the mining localities with the result that most of the opencast pits are filled with water. The natural landscape in these areas is now replaced by a kind of bad land punctuated by irregular holes.
This miners operates on a land space for some times, when the resources on that space is depleted, they pack up and leave to the next area leaving sparse area of lands with bad topography, useless for agriculture. Communities like Ewekoro in the southwest have been at the receiving end of the damage caused by abandoned mines. Also the people of Plateau state have endured the burden of the risks from abandoned mines over the years. There are trenches from abandoned mines scattered all over Jos in Barkin-Ladi, Bukuru, Bossa and Riyom districts. Many of these mine ponds are radioactive and has led to a lot of mysterious deaths in these areas. Most of these abandoned mines when flooded become death traps where citizens drown.
Aside from the environmental degradation, varying degrees of air pollution, water pollution and land pollution occurs in the course of mineral mining.
Mining operations also upset the equilibrium in the geological environment, this can trigger certain geological hazards such as landslides, flooding, erosion and tremors. Minor earth tremors are generated due to blasting of rocks in various sites. Villages and settlements in the neighborhood of the quarries have experience unpleasant earth movements when the rocks are blasted. Some buildings are damaged by developing cracks due to vibrations occasioned by the incessant blasting of the rocks.
In Itojuland, Ogun State, regular blasts of explosives is a regular phenomenon throughout the day, even at night. This explosion rocks the homes of the ruler settlers even to the foundation. Clouds of dust carrying granite particles is also breathed daily by the people. This is hazardous to the health of the people both on a short term and long term. By law, a community within a radius of one kilometre to a quarry must be resettled by the owner of the mine, but far from that happens in Nigeria.
Environmental health experts say some health conditions relating to mines, especially air pollution, have a latency period. For instance, dust-related conditions, like asbestosis, take 10 years or more before showing any symptom.
Rasaki Soyoye was a victim of death caused by dust-granite particle in the community. According to Alimi Ariibi, a light-skinned 80-something-year-old man, “He coughed to death”.
Particles from mines are among the toxic pollutants World Health Organisation classifies as ambient air pollutants and according to report given by State of Global Air for 2016, air pollution kills 150 out of every 100,000 in Nigeria. Studies have shown that people living in communities around Sagamu and Ewekoro are suffering from eye pain, and asthmatic attack due to the dust-laden air that prevails within a few kilometers radius of the factories. In Odeda local government area, Ogun state, there are about 25 communities in the LGA and not fewer than 10 mining companies in the LGA. The prevalent diseases in the area are cough (79.2%), malaria (45.7%), asthma (32.6%), rash (28.8%), eye problems (22.9%) and aches (7.2%). All these diseases are related to the inhalation of quarry dusts, vibrations and the use of water polluted by mining exercise. Ogun States is rich in rocks and limestone and that is where most of the cement factories in Nigeria is situated.
This dust-laden air also have an effect on agricultural output in their host communities, studies reveals that, there is a decline in kola nut output from the plantations within a few kilometers radius of the cement factory in Sagamu, Ogun State. This is because particulate matter deposit on kolanut leaves, and soil supporting the plants thereby preventing the action of photosynthesis and overall reducing production output.
No Welfare Gain by Mining Communities
In this part of the world, resources are a curse to where they are found because communities are only exploited for it, afterwards they are left in worse shape than before. Mining companies leave in its wake, diseases, destruction and poverty, agrarian lands becomes useless and wildlife is also lost.
Despite being enriched by resources in the area, these mining organisation have neglected their Corporate Social responsibility (CSR) instead they line the pockets of some greedy government officials for approval. As a result these officials turn away to the other side while these organizations ravage these communities without performing their CSO.
Mining companies and host communities are also required to draft out a law abiding agreement called the Community Development Agreement (CDA) according to the section 116 and 117 of the miners acts. In the Community Development Agreement, the host communities lists out basic amenities the company will provide for them and this agreement is to be reviewed every 5 years. But this is not usually done by both parties.
What about workers welfare? Nothing to write home about, these quarries in a bid to hire cheap labour break law and indulge in child labour. Workers are also denied the proper safety tools required for work and the environment they work in usually does not meet the international standard.
It is common for workers to be involved in life threatening accidents while working for the company, sometimes death occurs , afterwards the worker or in a case of death, the family of the worker is abandoned by the mining organization without any compensation.
Mining by the Chinese expatriates in this part of the world leaves a sour taste to the mouth as there are many wrongs that goes along with it. These companies are just profit oriented with little or no regards to the environment, host communities or even their workers. They destroy the agrarian wealth of these communities, ruin the health of the peasants and violating the well-being of their workers. At the end, they take it all and the country is the loser.
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