HRW Says Bauxite Mining Boom in Guinea Threatens Locals

WASHINGTON Mabinty lives in a village in Guinea's Boke region, about 250 kilometers northwest of Conakry, the capital.

Like much of Boke, Mabinty's village has been covered in a film of red dirt.

A spring that once supplied fresh water to her village has been filled with thick mud. Nearby streams have dried up. The landscape, once green and brown, is now mostly rust-colored.

These are the effects of bauxite mining.

In Guinea, the bauxite business is booming. But the government, eager to grab a share of the global market, has done little to protect villagers and wildlife, Human Rights Watch concluded in a report published this month.

The biggest problem of the past few years is (a) focus on growth and profit instead of environmental and social protection, said Jim Wormington, a researcher in Human Rights Watch's Africa division and the author of the bauxite report.

Mining officials dispute those findings, but all sides agree that the bauxite business has redefined Guinea's export economy and reshaped large swaths of land, especially in Boke.

Rapid growth

Bauxite is the ore that makes aluminum. It's used in everything from foil to cars and planes, a vital ingredient in manufacturing in the United States and, increasingly, China.

Since 2015, Guinea's bauxite market has grown dramatically. When Indonesia and Malaysia banned bauxite mining in recent years, the Guinean government saw an opportunity, Wormington said.

They invited international mining companies to access their rich reserves, making the country the world's third-biggest supplier of bauxite in 2017.

Once mined, ore needs to be moved from the countryside to ports for shipping. That's led to an improved transportation infrastructure of roads and railways, Wormington told VOA.

The effects on those closest to the mining have, however, been decidedly negative, he said.

Bauxite mining is a messy process. The ore can be found just below topsoil, making it quick and easy to reach.

Accessing the ore, however, means moving mounds of clay-like earth, which end up in the air, in the water and across nearby land, covering pastures where animals graze. Once they unearth it, miners use dynamite to break up bauxite before transporting it.

Land deals

The impact on nearby villagers and the many subsistence farmers who live in the Guinean countryside has been profound, HRW found. Many Guinean farmers have traditional land rights. Without formal paperwork proving their ownership, they're vulnerable.

When mining companies come in, they come in with this extraordinary power, where the government has given them the right to land, Wormington said.

A typical land deal involves a small, one-time cash payment to a local family or farmer. The payment isn't enough to overly inconvenience the mining company, nor transform the life of the average Guinean.

Source: Voice of America

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