A Human Rights Watch report on the mining industry in Malawi has revealed that rights of people in communities close to mining sites are being hugely violated.
The report titled “They Destroyed Everything Mining and Human Right in Malawi,: says it has always been difficult for the community members to access information about mining and its risks as they have no access to information that the government and mining companies hold.
According to the report, the country’s legal and regulation framework does not ensure proper assessment of the risks from environmental pollution before the mining starts and fails to effectively protect the risks of nearby communities through rigorous monitoring during and after operations.
“Environmental and social impact assessments and ongoing monitoring are intended to ensure scrutiny and rigor in evaluating the possible negative impacts of proposes new mines and in developing mitigation strategies. Unfortunately, weak regulations for impact assessments and monitoring have rendered this key safeguard largely ineffectual in Malawi.
“Legal standards for EIAs [Environmental Impact Assessments] leave too much discretion to authorities. While impact assessments should be mandatory for all projects that potentially impact the environment and community health, Malawi’s regulatory framework on EIAs for mining operations remains incomplete and unclear,” the report reads.
Human Rights Watch also says mining in Karonga has resulted in the resettlement of some families often without adequate warning, decent resettlement conditions or compensation.
The report also hit at the government and mining companies for being too secretive in their operations.
“While Malawi’s Constitution sets out various procedural rights that apply to environmental decision making, such as right to information, the current regulatory regime on mining does not promote access to environmental and health information,” the other part of the report reads.
One of the challenges in accessing information that the report emphasises on is the government and mining companies’ failure to reveal the results of water testing conducted in areas close to mining sites which makes people fail to identify the right sources of water for home use.
A Researcher in the Health and Human Rights division at the Human Rights body, Katharina Rall, said the government must fasttrack the enactment of Minerals Act of 1981 apart from increasing access to information in mining industry.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure safety and freedom from any other health hazards among people living near mining sites,” Rall said.
Citizens for Justice Executive Director, Reinford Mwangonde, said the results in the report are not surprising and it is sad that the country had to wait for some foreign organisation to report the rights violations in the mining sector.
“We have been saying these issues for a long time but the government has not been listening. It is sad we have allowed the mining companies to do what they want with our resources. We do not need to Human Rights Watch to come all the way from New York to tell us that something is wrong. We really need to do something to protect communities from these abuses” Mwangonde said.
Malawi Human Rights Commission Secretary Grace Malera said the legal framework review remains one of the best ways to deal with the violations.
Burnet Msika from the Department of Mining said he will present the report to relevant authorities in government.
“I am not here to provide the merits and demerits of the report. I am here to receive the report and thereafter I will relay it to relevant authorities in the department so that they can have a look at it and they have already assured me that at the right time they will convene a forum through which the results will be addressed,” Msika said.
The report, which the global human body released in Lilongwe on Tuesday, is based on research conducted between July 2015 and July 2016 including six weeks of field research in Malawi.