Mining Activities (Excluded in Agenda 21) Causing Social and Ecological Problems

THE extraction of minerals, including fossil fuels, was conspicuously absent from the UNCED negotiations, and thus from Agenda 21. It is a serious anamoly and deficiency in Agenda 21, which should be rectified. Perhaps it was an admission that mining cannot be sustainable: the destabilisation of local environments caused by mining is undeniable, with forests stripped bare, soils degraded and water channels polluted. Besides suffering the ecological effects, millions of people also find their land rights and livelihoods are threatened by mining activities.

The escalation of mining projects in recent years is alarming. Massive projects are underway or proposed in every continent, accompanied by violent protests in a number of cases. These include Venezuela, Ecuador, Ghana, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Burma, Borneo, the Philippines.

As technology advances, and the more accessible deposits are exploited, mining companies are penetrating more remote areas. These are usually remaining forests, watersheds and mountainous regions. To mine these areas would be to cause more devastating environmental damage. Most of these areas are also indigenous peoples' lands, recognised or claimed.

TNCs from Australia, Canada and the US are extending their spread more aggressively. In Africa, South African based companies are moving across the continent. While specific companies in specific instances have been highlighted (e.g. SHELL in Nigeria and CONOCO in Ecuador) there is no systematic monitoring of TNCs to match the increased activity in the mining sector.

At the same time, pressure on the South to open up their countries to foreign investors have led to new or amended mining laws that will damage the environment and result in widespread dislocation of communities and social chaos. In a study of recent trends in the global mining industry, Corpuz (1997) concluded that in the mid-l990s technological advances coupled with the fast globalization and liberalization of the mining industry, which is called the "the mining sustainability framework", allowed the transnational mining corporations to temporarily ease themselves out of a crisis.

By the mid-1980s, the states in many developed countries started to divest themselves of their interests in mining and metals companies. By l993 there was significant reduction in state control for nearly all minerals. In the South, liberalisation took a different form: liberalisation of mining laws, derestriction and deregulation. Around 70 countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia-Pacific are now fully liberalizing their mining laws and implementing deregulation in a wide range of areas, including land rights and mineral rights, taxation, environment protection, in order to attract foreign mining investors.

This liberalisation policy at national level is accompanied by the globalisation of mining operations. Mining TNCs have developed a framework which they call "mining sustainability" which refers not to "sustainable development" but to lengthening of the lifespan of mining operations. It refers to the acquisition by mining companies of large tracts of mineral lands worldwide and removal of restrictions to their control and use of such lands so that mining operations should no longer be hampered by territorial boundaries and planning can be done on a global scale.

Due to intense competition, to maintain their industry position, mining companies have to be aggressive in extending their borders and compete to acquire mineral lands. Canadian mining companies for example have around 1,700 mine projects outside of the Canada and the US, mostly in Central and South America and Africa but including Asia. An example of the effects of liberalisation is the Philippines where there has been a major policy shift. Land previously restricted to foreigners has now been opened up to foreign mining companies. Much of the untapped mineral lands are in regions populated by indigenous peoples, and also where small-scale local miners operate. The new Mining Act of 1995 allows foreign mining companies 100% control of their local subsidiaries (in contrast to previous requirement of 60% Filipino ownership). The law also gives other rights such as Water Right and Timber Right (or prior rights to the company in the use of water and forest resources) and "Easement Right" (the right to evict people from the mineral areas). Mineral lands are also exempted from the issuance of ancestral land claims and ancestral domain claims.

According to Corpuz (1996), the hundreds of mining applications cover around 13 million hectares. Taking the lands applied for and including existing and already approved mining operation areas, 45% of the entire 30 million-hectare land area of the country is affected by mining applications and operations. In the Cordillera region (populated by indigenous people), the applications cover 1.082 million hectares or over half the region's total land. The indigenous people in another region, Mindanao, will face a similar problem as it has attracted 25 applications.

Communities affected by the applications have protested against the policies and even during the exploration stage the companies are being met with strong resistance. The indigenous people in particular have protested against the violation of their land rights and the dislocation the proposed mining activities would bring to large numbers of them.

Recent years have also witnessed heated controversies over the granting of mining contracts and often violent clashes and protests by affected communities against mining activities in many parts of the world.

A recent International Conference on Women and Mining held in the Philippines and attended by representatives from many countries of NGOs and community groups affected by mining activities came to the conclusion that mining (especially large-scale operations) have many severe impacts, including:

* Appropriation of lands of indigenous peoples which result in massive displacements of communities.

* Large-scale destruction of lands, mountains, forests, agricultural lands, which include erosions, siltation, deforestation, desertification, and flattening of mountains.

* Pollution of soils and rivers with toxic chemicals used in mining and with the toxic mineral-by products. Air pollution is generated by the dust from bulldozing and transport activities.

* Frequent occurrences of mining accidents from collapse of underground tunnels, and bursting or overflowing of mine-tailings dams, which cause further pollution of lands, rivers, and the ocean, which lead to the decrease of marine biodiversity, and killing of plants, animals and even human beings.

* The mineworkers, the people in the mining communities, and even those who are at the receiving end of toxic mine-tailings, are faced with serious health problems such as skin-diseases, respiratory diseases (tuberculosis, silicosis, asbestosis) gastro-intestinal diseases, cancers, problems in reproduction.

* There is a significant erosion or destruction of traditional values, customs, which have been key in sustaining community, tribal, clan, and family solidarity. Mining corporations have also deprived women in matrilineal societies (such as those found in the Pacific, PNG, Bougainville) of their rights to their ancestral lands. There is a high incidence of alcoholism, drug addiction, and prostitution, gambling, domestic violence in many mining communities.

* Increasing protests and resistance of communities against the entry of mines, land displacement, and pollution of the land and waters, has meant increasing militarization in many communities.


Mining was excluded from Agenda 21. The UNGASS and CSD should correct this deficiency by making a decision to introduce it as a new sectoral issue in the CSD framework of the future. Since discussions on mining activities have been absent so far, it should feature early on and urgently in the post-1997 schedule of CSD. IT could also be an item in an intersessional meeting of the CSD.

Meanwhile, governments should pay particular attention to the issue and take immediate measures to deal with the environmental and social problems caused by mining activities.

(New York 23-27 June 1997)