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July-August 2010
Vol. 35, No. 4

Tanzania: Mining company bullies NGO

Foundation HELP, a small nonprofit organization spotlighted in an MOGC Together with Africa update last year, has disseminated information about the effects of a toxic sludge spill from the Barrick Gold Corporation’s North Mara Gold Mines (NMGM). On June 8, Foundation HELP received a seven-day notice from lawyers for the North Mara mine, demanding 1) evidence of the effect of the spill on local residents and 2) an apology to the mine for spreading the information about the spill. The attorneys threatened legal action against Foundation HELP if these demands were not met. In the face of the pressure, Foundation HELP’s director, Chacha Wambura, wrote that, despite its modest size and meager resources, the group “will stand with poor and marginalized community members in North Mara no matter what it will take.”

In a letter requesting support for Foundation HELP, Evans Rubara, policy and advocacy advisor for the Council of Churches in Zambia, wrote that the group has been active and instrumental as a research launching pad for a number studies carried out on the impacts of the extractive industry in Tanzania’s Lake region, with a main focus on the communities living in the mining areas in the North Mara.

Rubara writes, “Barrick’s strategy to single out and intimidate organizations and individuals who bring to [the] surface evidences of social, economic, environmental injustices resulting in gross human rights violations have been known to many of us who have worked against malpractices in the mining sector.

“With this letter and ultimatum issued to Foundation HELP’s executive director, the voices of the poor and marginalised communities in the North Mara will not be heard and this organisation will vanish as it does not have the resource muscle to stand the ground against Barrick Gold Corporation.”

A recent study entitled The investigation of trace metal concentrations in soil, sediments and waters in the vicinity of gold mines in North West Tanzania, published by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences and the University of Dar es Salaam Department of Botany, reports that the Geita Gold Mine (GGM) and the NMGM have developed large quarries in the middle of fertile agricultural lands. According to the report, “Possible hazardous impact on the natural recourse impelled a [June 2009] pilot study on the trace element contents in soils, sediments and natural waters. The need to follow up these studies is obvious as several sites have accumulated potentially hazardous contents of trace elements. The previous accidental spill that took place from the NMGM in May 2009 has seriously contaminated sediments and waters nearby. However, other sites more remote from this site are affected, as particularly the contents of arsenic (As) was found to be unacceptably high in both sediments and waters.

“Although the contamination situation was less severe in the area near GGM, findings from this place show that As contents in sediments is worrying. Detailed biogeochemical studies at both places are highly recommended. Along with such studies, there is a pressing need for an extensive study of the population, their diet and agricultural management practices, to map particularly the As sources, its transport in the food chain and finally its content in human tissue samples of different groups of the populations ….
“Generally, there is no reason to dispute the impact of large scale mining on the local environments, but the study shows a great variety in type of elements and intensity spilled. We have not been speculating nor discussed the direct health effect connected to these findings as that is outside our expertise. The only link to human health has been the comparison of element concentrations in water with [World Health Organization] drinking water recommendations.”

Faith in action:

Send expressions of solidarity and support for the work of Foundation HELP to Executive Director Chacha Wambura who has been singled out by Barrick.

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