Many of the 1 429 households resettled to make way for Brazilian mining group Vale and mining major Rio Tinto’s international coal mining operations in Tete, Mozambique, have faced serious disruptions in their access to food and water, independent human rights protection organi- sation Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released in May.
The Mozambique government’s speed in approving mining licences and inviting billions of dollars in investment has outstripped the creation of adequate safeguards to protect directly affected populations, says HRW.
The report, ‘What is a House without Food? Mozambique’s Coal Mining Boom and Resettlements’, examines how serious shortcomings in government policy and mining companies’ implementation uprooted largely self-sufficient farming communities and resettled them to arid land far from rivers and markets.
These communities have experienced periods of food insecurity or, when available, dependence on short-term food assistance financed by Vale and Rio Tinto.
“These multibillion-dollar investments are supposed to drive development in one of the poorest countries in the world, yet they have actually made life harder for many people.
“Mozambique’s government should work with Vale and Rio Tinto to make sure the resettled farmers have productive land by the next farming season and appropriate and timely compensation for shortcomings in the resettle- ment process,” says HRW senior researcher Nisha Varia.
Tete has about 23-billion tons of mostly untapped coal reserves and is at the early stages of an enormous natural resource boom. According to 2012 government data, approved mining concessions and exploration licences cover about 3.4-million hectares, or 34% of the Tete province’s area. Coal mining accounts for roughly one-third of this.
This figure increases to about six-million hectares, or about 60% of Tete province’s area, if licences pending approval are included.
Not all exploration activity leads to mining projects, but the high concentration of land designated for mining licences contributes to conflicts over land use.
“The staggering concentration of land allo- cated for mining activities has profoundly limited the availability of good farmland and viable resettlement sites for communities slated for relocation,” says Varia, adding that the government should consider calling a halt to additional licences until adequate protections are in place.
During 2009 and 2010, Vale resettled 1 365 households to a newly constructed village, Cateme, and to an urban neighbourhood, 25 de Setembro, in the district capital, Moatize.
Meanwhile, Rio Tinto acquired Australian mining company Riversdale and its holdings in Mozambique in 2011. Riversdale and Rio Tinto resettled 71 and 13 households, respectively, to a newly constructed village, Mwaladzi, in 2011, and Rio Tinto is resettling an additional 388 households this year.
India-based Jindal Steel & Power also has coal mining operations in Tete province and is planning to resettle 484 families.
HRW interviewed 79 residents of Cateme, 25 de Setembro, Mwaladzi, Capanga, and Cassoca who were resettled or are soon to be resettled, as well as 50 government officials, civil society activists and international donors.
The residents said that they do not have food, or money to buy food. When questioning the mining houses about the resettlement, residents received no responses and their situa- tion remained the same.
The relocation sites are also a long distance from markets and residents’ limited transportation options have also reduced communities’ ability to earn nonfarming income.
HRW has communicated extensively with Vale, Rio Tinto and Jindal Steel & Power representatives about these issues, including more than 35 meetings, telephone conversations and written communications.
Vale representatives have acknowledged that the land in the resettlement sites is arid and requires irrigation to improve its fertility, while a Rio Tinto communication to HRW notes that it is “aware that the carrying capacity of the land in Mwaladzi is marginal without irrigation schemes”.
As of April, there were no widely accessible irrigation schemes in place, says HRW.
Meanwhile, resettled farmers in the Vale resettlement village, Cateme, have experienced delays in receiving their full promised compensation.
As of early May, all resettled households in Cateme were still waiting for the provincial government to allocate a second hectare of farmland promised in their original compensation package in 2009, says HRW.
As a result, at least 83 families in Cateme effectively have had no access to farmland as the first plots they received were extremely rocky or were reclaimed by their original users.
As of April, Vale said it had not yet provided these households with any additional assistance for their extra hardship in the three years since they were resettled.
While Vale and Rio Tinto have carried out the resettlements, the Mozambique government is ultimately responsible for approving and allocating resettlement sites, as well as monitoring the outcome.
HRW found that there has also been insufficient communication by government and the mining companies with resettled communities.
Neither the companies nor government has provided adequately accessible and responsive mechanisms for residents to participate in decision-making, lodge complaints, or seek and get redress for their grievances.
“Government should put effective protections in place as a priority so that people affected by new projects do not suffer the hardships faced by people resettled so far. New resettlements, including those planned by Jindal Steel & Power and Rio Tinto, will provide an important test of the effectiveness of evolving safeguards,” Varia concludes.