The Tibetan Autonomous Region, a territory of China, is a resource-rich land, ripe with large stores of copper, oil, lithium, chromite, uranium and gold.

As a result, the government of China displaces numerous Tibetans. The Central Tibetan Administration reports that around 240 mining sites have replaced once-nomadic sites. The China National Gold Group is a government-sponsored organization that owns mines in the Tibetan plateau.

The Stop Mining in Tibet movement states that local Tibetans do not benefit in any capacity from the numerous mines that have sprung up. Stop Mining in Tibet equates the process as looting and calls for its immediate termination. Canadian corporations, in collaboration with the Chinese government, exploit the mines and not only negatively affect the Tibetans in the area, but also do ecological damage to the Tibetan plateau.

Mining sites created near the continent’s largest rivers, such as the Yangtze and the Yellow, are threatened with pollution of its waters. The pollution poses such a danger that India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh may also be affected by polluted waters because they are downstream.

Historically, Tibetans limited their mining, considering the land to be sacred. Now, many of Tibet’s resources are funneled straight into the rapidly industrializing China, with very little benefit towards the pastoral Tibetan community.

Furthermore, with over 6 million nomadic Tibetans in the region, this displacement comes at a time when Tibetan refugee acceptance is in a current decline, according to the BBC.

Displacement of the pastoral communities in Tibet was alleged to have begun in the early 2000s, but recent reports have seen the phenomenon gain more ground. Further information is largely limited, as foreign reporters are restricted in their coverage by the Chinese government.

This past April, a landslide found over 80 miners trapped in the Jiama mine. The Chinese government stated that mining did not cause the landslide, but the Tibetan government in exile, operating from India, claims otherwise.

The majority of the miners found trapped were Han Chinese, with a report of only two Tibetan miners. The majority of miners are not Tibetan themselves, but rather hail from outside the Tibetan region.

With the Chinese government claiming Tibetan land for the betterment of China and a Tibetan government operating from a large distance away, pastorals are left to the whims of governmental decree. In this case, scores of their community are largely displaced. Protest movements exist – but what is a land-rich in resources is sorely lacking in human rights.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: BBC 1, 2, Central Tibetan Administration, The Economist, Stop Mining Tibet
Photo: Asia News

The National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama, or COONAPIP, is rallying for support to protect land rights, claiming the national government has failed to do so. “Our government has committed sins of omission as well as commission, showing great lack of concern about the wellbeing of indigenous peoples,” said Betanio Chiquidama, President of COONAPIP.

The UN is also calling on the government to expand and protect land rights. “The development of large investment projects in indigenous territories of Panama has been the subject of numerous allegations of violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, especially in recent years,” said the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya.

Land in Panama has been increasingly used-up by third parties, illegal loggers and miners. The misuse of indigenous land is not only making life difficult for people, but also puts Panama’s rainforests in jeopardy. In the past 5 years, unsustainable harvesting of natural resources has escalated on indigenous territories, which include more than half of Panama’s old-growth forests. The fight for indigenous peoples to hold onto their land has resulted in nine deaths in standoffs with the police in a two year span.

Panama’s indigenous groups comprise 10 percent of the total population, and most remain largely autonomous in the governance of their preserves, called comarcas. However, the strong interest in natural resources on the preserves is weakening the indigenous communities’ ability to protect their land. Some parts of the comarcas are not even on the map, which makes it hard for indigenous peoples to claim the land is theirs. Another problem is that the government has stopped designating comarcas in the 1990s, leaving nearly 20 indigenous communities without rights to their land. They had to lobby hard for the government to recognize just two more preserves, which are smaller than those established two decades ago.

Illegal logging, mining, and dam construction occurs on lands which are not clearly designated. The Program Director of Rainforest Foundation U.S., Christine Halvorson says, “there’s no good state presence, so it’s a little bit of a Wild West.” Indigenous people have even been bribed by companies with gifts of money and food to give their signatures in support of mining operations on land owned by their community, according to a 2011 report on indigenous experiences with mining in Panama.

COONAPIP is fighting for the voices from the comarcas to be heard by the decision makers in government, who continue to sell their land to international investors without including indigenous peoples. “They are making deals for investments on our land and we know nothing about it until the bulldozer arrives,” said Williams Barrigón Dogirama, former president of COONAPIP.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, UN News
Photo: Take Part

ZARUMA, Ecuador — Gold has been mined in the city of Zaruma in southern Ecuador for over 500 years. The area has suffered a complicated history of extraction and exploitation, and now stands as a prime example of the challenges currently facing the Ecuadoran mining industry.

Approximately 10,000 people in the area surrounding Zaruma make their livings from “artisanal,” or small-scale subsistence mining. The work is backbreaking and the profit margins generally narrow. It is hardly the most efficient way to access the country’s estimated 280.4 tons of unmined gold.

Recognizing what the underground stores of gold, copper, and silver worth an estimated $200 billion could mean for a country with more than a quarter of its population living below the poverty line, President Rafael Correa introduced a bill aimed at encouraging new investment in the mining industry. The measure seeks to diversify the Ecuadoran economy, which is heavy in oil and exports, and to attract companies to make big investments in large-scale mining projects.

Unfortunately for President Correa, the pending legislation was not enough to entice one of its major targets, Canada’s Kinross Gold Corporation, into following through with a planned $1.3 billion mining project in southeastern Ecuador. The development of the Fruta del Norte mine was scrapped after more than two years of negotiation, and is now expected to be taken over by Chinese investors.

China has been an increased presence in Ecuador over the past several years, and Chinese investor groups seem eager to continue the expansion. Having already established a strong presence in the oil sector through China National Petroleum’s and Sinopec’s local subsidiaries, investors are keen to deepen their involvement with the mining industry. Last year Chinese-backed Ecuacorriente signed a $1.4 billion deal with the government to open a large-scale mining project in the Mirador copper deposit. The company is currently negotiating another deal to expand their operations to the Panantza-San Carlos copper deposit.

These concessions to major foreign investors with superior capital and technology have not gone unnoticed by concerned indigenous groups. Many groups across the country have protested. Some — like the Shuar — have even marched to Quito. The fear is artisanal miners cannot survive in an industry dominated by huge corporations.

Communities like Zaruma are at the heart of the debate. On one hand, the seemingly inevitable expansion of foreign companies into the area now home to subsistence miners would bolster an important Ecuadoran industry, despite the risk that such an expansion could cause social unrest.

On the other hand, there is the idea that investments should be focused on local mining businesses, like many already operating in Zaruma. The investments would allow these businesses to increase their capital and technology so as to be able to compete for government concessions. Their operations would be smaller projects but would keep the profits in the local community.

The mining of precious metals in Ecuador has a difficult, haunted history, and in many ways the uncertain future of communities like Zaruma demonstrates how complex the issues surrounding the industry remain even today.

– Lauren Brown

Source: BBC, The Financial Times
Photo: Ecuador Times

Poverty in Guinea: The Land Of Extremes

Guinea is a country rich in resources. It is a place where bauxite, diamonds, iron ore, copper, uranium, nickel and gold all can be found in abundance.

Yet it remains one of the top ten poorest countries in the world. Infant mortality in Guinea is very high while the standards for education remain very low. Locals sift through murky water in hopes of striking it big by finding important minerals. Poverty in Guinea is rampant.

So why is there such a stark contrast? Many point to corruption. Large international corporations have flooded the country to mine the natural resources. Guineans, unequipped and unable to mine on their own, are being cut out of this beneficial operation.

Guinean President Alpha Conde aims to correct this corruption by making his people more involved in the mining sector. The first democratically elected president notes that the corruption of Guinea faces is structurally woven into the way business is handled.

“Contracts aren’t signed on the basis of the capability to deliver but on the size of the bribe that goes with it. Corruption is the essence of the contract,” Conde said.

Conde and Guinea have requested that the G8 intervene in monitoring the financial transactions of the shell companies in the country. A grand jury in the United States has recently been listening to testimony regarding the corruption in Guinea.

– William Norris

Sources: Channel 4 News, Defence Web

El Salvador Fights to Protect Water
The Central American country of El Salvador fights to protect water. Twenty-five percent of the rural population do not have access to potable water, and an estimated 90% of the country’s surface water is believed to be “heavily contaminated.” A preliminary report released last month on the effects of gold mining on El Salvador’s water supply reveals that in areas where mining was conducted, local populations experienced high rates of cancer, kidney failure, and diseases of the nervous system. A 2012 study of the San Sebastián river by a government agency showed that the river contained 9 times the acceptable level of cyanide and 1,000 times the acceptable level of iron. The river is now famous for its unnaturally orange-colored contaminated water.

Water Contamination Sparks Environmentalism in El Salvador

Much of this contamination is the legacy of large-scale industrial metal mining in the resource-rich country. Such mining both uses and contaminates large amounts of potable water. Many citizens of El Salvador also argue that multinational mining companies that claim to bring jobs and economic growth in fact extract resources but contribute little to the local economy.

These negative environmental and economic effects have galvanized Salvadorans in a grass-roots environmental movement, a fight to protect water from mining contamination. Local residents, led in part by those from the canton of San Sebastián, have teamed up with international NGOs to protest mining contamination, publicize the issue internationally, and conduct scientific studies to support their claims that industrial mining endangers the nation’s environment and people. The movement has reached to the top levels of government, with strong national and international repercussions. In 2008, then-President Antonio Saca stopped issuing new mining permits, and the government is currently debating a bill that would make El Salvador the first country to ban industrial metal mining altogether.

International mining companies are fighting back, however. Commerce Group, an American company that operated the mine near the San Sebastián river, and Pacific Rim, a Canadian company, have filed complaints against El Salvador before a World Bank trade tribunal based in Washington, D.C. The companies are suing the Salvadoran government for $400 million dollars for violating their rights as investors. Decisions on these cases have not yet been reached. In the meantime, Salvadorans continue to debate the best ways to preserve their water and devise a model of development that is both sustainable and economically beneficial to all sectors of society.

– Délice Williams

Source: The Guardian, Mining Watch, StopESMining
Photo: Mesa Nacional

The recent news that Ecuador will be auctioning off more than three million hectares of land in the Amazon jungle to Chinese oil firms has started many conversations about land management in the world’s largest tropical rain forest. Along with the damaging results that oil wells and oil leaks have on the environment in the Amazon jungle, there are also serious consequences for the local inhabitants.

Much of the Amazonian oil rights are owned by Canadian and Argentine oil companies and there is a long history of evicting local indigenous communities in order to drill for oil. With the coming sale of the Ecuadorian jungle property, an NGO named Amazon Watch claims that seven indigenous groups in the region have protested the sale. The groups risk being displaced from their homes as well as having the local environment be destroyed, which would drastically affect their way of life. Neighboring Peru has sold much of its’ Amazonian land rights to oil companies and their indigenous communities have suffered similar injustices.

Today, groups like the Environmental Monitoring Programme, part of the larger Federation of Native Communities of the Corrientes River, investigate reports of oil spills and fractured oil wells in order to record the environmental damage. This data is used to strengthen the claims and protests of local leaders against the oil practices that are so harmful to the delicate ecosystem. The Environmental Monitoring Program to date has discovered 120 oil leaks and, since 2006, more than 9,000 abandoned wells have been recorded. Many of these unused wells contribute to the harmful pollution of the Corrientes and Amazon rivers.

So, as this sale goes through in the near future it is important that the world request stricter oil industry standards in the Amazon in order to protect the environment and the lives of the peoples who live there.

– Kevin Sullivan

Sources: IPS News, The Guardian

Is Small-Scale Mining a Sustainable Livelihood?Artisanal or small-scale mining practices provide income to millions of the world’s poorest people. A lack of knowledge, policy, and regulation in the industry means that most small-scale miners operate illegally and without organization or oversight. A recent report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) aims to shed some light on the issues of small-scale and artisanal mining.

Much small-scale mining takes place in remote areas with poor living and working conditions. It is known for its severe pollutant production and subjection of poor and marginalized workers, including women and children, to unsafe working conditions. However, since identifying areas for improvement in the industry, IIED hopes to work with policymakers to improve lives and local environmental impacts.

IIED will accomplish this by connecting miners, their families, and communities with other stakeholders, including authorities on the local, national, and international levels. The organization will gather information and data and coordinate with policymakers to foster dialogue and address challenges. The IIED believes that with greater transparency in the industry, small-scale mining can become a sustainable and safe livelihood for many.

Historically, governments and institutions have overlooked small-scale mining as an industry worth investigation, investment, or support, choosing instead to focus on large-scale mining and small-scale operations in other industries such as forestry and agriculture. Part of the reason for this is the stigma against small-scale mining as a problematic and undesirable practice. But neglecting the industry does nothing to improve its conditions. Authorities must recognize economic realities and focus on improving workers’ lives and working conditions.

The widespread practice of artisanal mining is driven in no small part by the global demand for minerals such as tin and tungsten, for use in gadgets like your smartphone. Despite the rapidly growing technology market, little progress has been made in developing sustainable mining practices over the last decade.

It is estimated that 20 to 30 million people derive the majority of their income from small-scale mining: ten times as many people as large-scale, industrial mining. The income from those 20-30 million supports an additional 100 million people. With so many people relying on these traditional practices for their livelihoods, more must be done in the sector to improve efficiency and working conditions, provide education and resources, and reduce negative environmental and health impacts.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: IIED, The Guardian
Photo: IIED


Last week concluded the 19th annual Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town, South Africa. The African Mining Indaba is an extremely important conference when it comes to maintaining global resources. With about 100 countries represented, 1000 international companies and over 7,500 attendees, AMI spans over four days, not including the golf tournament.

Over these four days, investors, government officials, professors, economists and directors from all over come to learn more about how to improve the mining culture in Africa and how it affects the global economy. A main part of the conference is the Sustainable Development segment. Here, speakers come together from different sectors to discuss mining’s environmental, economic and social impact in and outside of Africa.

In order to prevent Africa’s resources from becoming too depleted, mining experts urged companies and their directors to develop more sustainable practices. Improved practices will make resources more durable so that the land and communities near mining sites will remain intact and in good condition.

When dealing with treasuries and mineral reserves, the economics behind mining starts focusing on the labor force and the numerous labor strikes. It is no secret that there is corruption within the mining market and its involvement in funding rebels and civil wars within Africa. The panel discussion on transparency and anti-corruption was created to address this very issue: for mining companies to make public their audits and payments to foreign governments in order to gain the trust of their workers and the communities around the mines.

The most important thing attendees of African Mining Indaba can take away is the fact that mining in Africa has the power to completely change the lives of millions, both in the African Union and elsewhere. The more transparent mining firms become in terms of regulations and in abiding the African Mining Vision, which strives “to harness the continent’s mineral revenues for more sustainable human development”, the better the relationship between the general population, companies, and government officials will be.

With numerous keynote speakers and presenters speaking about this subject at the conference, the event brings hope that there will be a change in the African mining culture that is so desperately needed.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source:, Mining Indaba