Many of the almost 1 500 households that had to be resettled for major Brazilian mining group Vale’s and diversified giant Rio Tinto’s coal mining operations in Tete, Mozambique, have faced challenges in trying to access food, water and work, human rights group Human Rights Watch says in a report released last month.
The rapid pace at which the Mozambique government is approving mining licences and inviting billions of dollars in investment has outstripped the creation of adequate safeguards to protect populations directly affected, the group says.
The report, ‘What is a House without Food? Mozambique’s Coal Mining Boom and Resettle- ments’, examines the ways in which serious shortcomings in government policy and mining companies’ ineffective implementation of resettlement programmes have uprooted largely self-sufficient farming communities.
“While the needs of the Mozambican communities were taken into consideration, those needs were, essentially, not met and, in fact, many families are worse off than they were before the mining companies came,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher Chris Albin-Lackey tells Mining Weekly.
Farmers who were largely self-sufficient before they were resettled have been moved to arid, unproductive land. Water is scarce and crops have failed, and some families have been reduced to dependence on sporadic handouts of food aid to make ends meet, he says.
“In addition to this, Vale’s and Rio Tinto’s primary resettlement sites are far removed from local markets, making it difficult for families to bolster their livelihoods with activities other than farming,” he adds.
The Human Rights Watch report states that Tete province has an estimated 23-billion tons of mostly untapped coal reserves and is in the early stages of an enormous natural-resource boom.
According to 2012 government data, approved mining concessions and exploration licences cover 3.4-million hectare, or 34% of Tete. Coal mining accounts for about one-third of these licences and the figure increases to six-million hectare, or 60% of Tete, when licences pending approval are included.
Not all exploration activities lead to mining projects, but the high concentration of land designated for mining licences contributes to conflicts over land use.
“The staggering concentration of land allocated for mining activities has profoundly limited the availability of good farmland and viable resettlement sites for communities, and government should consider calling a halt to additional licences until ade- quate protections are in place,” says Human Rights Watch senior researcher Nisha Varia.
Albin-Lackey says the Mozambique government and the companies heading the mining projects should ensure, at least, that resettled families are as well off as they were before being resettled.
“Families should not have to suffer a deterioration in their living conditions after having to make way for these projects.”
Further, government and the mining companies should consult extensively and meaningfully with communities prior to resettling them.
“While consultation with communities that have already been relocated did take place, it was not as effective as it should have been and confusion reigned among many families even when they were being relocated and thereafter,” he says.
Albin-Lackey adds that, in the case of the Vale and Rio Tinto resettlements, the companies do acknowledge that the resettled communities’ current situation is not acceptable and has to be improved.
The mining companies have committed to improving their situation through initiatives such as projects to improve water supplies, provide families with access to irrigated land and help them develop alternative livelihoods.
“The future of these communities depends entirely on whether the companies and government effectively follow through on those promises.”
Albin-Lackey emphasises that the Mozambique government should take much more care to ensure that resettlement does not leave families worse off than they were before being moved. A big part of this is ensuring that viable sites are chosen for resettled communities.
Companies have a responsibility to ensure this happens – they should not relocate fami- lies unless the plans they have in place respect those families’ rights and protect their ability to earn a living. Affected communities need to be consulted every step of the way and not simply presented with marching orders, says Albin-Lackey.
Resettlements are going to happen – there is no stopping them, he says.
“However, they should not be done hastily and they should not go ahead until it is clear that they will avoid the pitfalls that have damaged the lives of those people who have been relocated to make way for Vale’s and Rio Tinto’s projects.
“Government and the companies involved all acknowledge that they have a responsibility to ensure that relocated communities are at least as well off as they were before being moved – as a matter of principle, that’s not in dispute. The question is whether and how those promises will be realised,” Albin-Lackey concludes.