The people vs gold - a global battleground
Recent public opposition to gold mining developments in Peru and in Bulgaria are indicative of a trend towards opposition to new mines which are accused of threatening water supplies.
Posted: Tuesday , 29 Nov 2011
More and more it seems that local populations, perhaps stirred-up by often misleading information from environmental activists, are protesting - sometimes violently - against the establishment of significant gold mining operations in their areas.
For example, in Peru, there is an ongoing protest by the citizens of Cajamarca against the development of the Newmont/Buenaventura $3.4 billion Minas Conga gold mine while in Europe's Balkan region the citizens of the town of Krumovgrad in Bulgaria are currently conducting a campaign against the development of an open pit gold mine by Dundee Precious Metals. Both these to an extent also pit the locals against central government which sees the potential benefits of the respective mining operations to their revenues and in terms of increased employment.
The above protests revolve around water supply concerns, as have a number of other recent protests against mining operations. In the case of Minas Conga, this is something of an embarrassment to Peru's left-leaning new President, Ollanta Humala, whose government has so far supported the mining companies in this particular case because of its potential importance to the economy. Other smaller projects suffering the same kind of protest have not been so lucky.
"Mining hasn't complied with its social role of attending communities, and that abuse has generated a climate of distrust," Humala said recently at a conference in Lima reports Bloomberg. "That climate divides us between gold or water, and we need to solve that."
But these protests, and others around the world, do suggest that the mining sector, which for the most part bends over backwards these days to protect water supplies and the environment in general, has perhaps not been sufficiently good at communicating its successes with the locals. Because of its past, there still tends to be a distrust of big mining companies which locals feel exploit their resources and give little back to the communities. A century ago, or even more recently than that, this may well have been the case and memories can be extremely long-lived, particularly when stirred up by anti-mining activists.
Water may well be the key at the moment. It is so vital to human health and agriculture and with ever rising populations, water supply volumes are continually under threat. With global communications what they are nowadays, actions in one part of the world can be picked up rapidly by communities on the other side of the world who may suffer similar doubts - as witness the spread of the ‘Occupy' anti-capitalist movement around the world in such a short space of time.
There is no easy answer to the problem or the mining sector except perhaps even more public consultation . It may well need to enhance water supplies rather than appearing to threaten them and spend even more getting its message across, which is a relatively tiny cost in relation to those suffered through a hostile local community.
What this does also show, however, are the ever increasing difficulties the mining industry in general, and gold mining in particular, is faced with in developing new operations around the world. Sustainable development has been a buzz phrase in the sector for the past few decades and the industry needs to deliver, and be seen to deliver over and over again for the distrust of the sector to be erased from people's consciousness. Maybe one day we'll even get to see a film where the mining company is the good guy rather than the villain!
iPad Version: Picture - Andean people destroy a sign of Newmont Mining during a protest against the company's proposed $4.8 billion Conga gold mine: REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil