Government Pension Fund Company Ran Away from Environmental Catastrophe
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In the Philippines: Knut-Erik Helle (text and photo)
The fisherman Wilson Manuba (picture) is one of the victims of the mining industry on Marinduque. He has lost one leg and has large wounds that won’t grow because of heavy-metal poisoning.
“I fear I’ll lose my other leg too. I don’t have money for medicines. Nobody wants to cover these expenses. We haven’t received a cent from the mining company,” Manuba, the father of three, told Norwatch.
Today Wilson Manuba has to struggle to support his family.
A Life in Poverty
“Despite everything, I manage to get up and work for my family. I’m still fishing, but sometimes I don’t have the strength to crawl the two kilometres down to the sea. It is really difficult, especially when it’s raining,” the fisherman recounts.
Many share Wilson Manuba’s fate in the twelve fishing villages in Calancan Bay which are hardest hit by the environmental poisons from the mining operations on Marinduque. Many have died, and even more have to live with high levels of heavy metals in their bodies.
Wilson Manuba and others in the bay who suffer from poisoning can recover. But very few in the poverty-stricken fishing villages can afford to pay the 375 euros that the treatment costs.
For 16 years approximately 200 million tons of mining tailings with cadmium, silver, zinc, cobalt, nickel, lead, mercury, and arsenic were dumped right into the sea. The mining tailings has formed an 8-km-long artificial island in the middle of Calancan Bay. In addition, poisonous dust from the mining areas still blows down into the villages.
American researchers at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) have made independent investigations on Marinduque and found extremely high deposits of several poisonous heavy metals in Calancan Bay. Philippine health authorities have found high concentrations of lead in children and adults in the fishing villages. Several children have been treated for extremely high levels of lead in their bodies.
Devastated Fish Stocks
For the villages that are dependent on the bay the economic basis disappeared, inasmuch as the poisonous mining tailings devastated the fish stocks and corals full of life. Today the inhabitants live at a subsistence minimum and in poverty.
“When I think about the children who have to grow up here, I just want to cry,” the local environmental activist Alex Ramoran told Norwatch.
The local authorities on Marinduque have plans to move the whole local society in Calancan Bay to an area on the island free from poison, but since this is one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines, there are no funds to implement the large-scale move.
Several multinational mining companies are interested in resuming the mining operation on Marinduque. Large deposits of copper still remain in the presently abandoned mining area.
“The Philippine government has again selected Marinduque as a high-priority area for mining operations. We collected 15,000 signatures and got Marinduque temporarily removed from the list of potential new mining projects,” Alex Ramoran reported.
The local authorities on Marinduque have instituted a 50-year moratorium against any kind of mining activity on the island.
Difficult Legal Fight
The authorities on Marinduque have brought civil action against Barrick Gold to obtain compensation for the damage to the tropical island. The federal district court in Nevada has accepted that civil action be brought against Barrick Gold, which in 2006 bought the mining company Placer Dome. It was Placer Dome, through its local subsidiary Marcopper, who was responsible for the mining operations on Marinduque.
Affected fishermen on Marinduque have brought a separate civil action for US$ 900 million for lost income and the damage the mining operations have inflicted on local society in Calancan. Because of flaws in Philippine legislation and changes in ownership in the companies involved, it is extremely difficult to prosecute Barrick Gold.
Company in Defensive Position
In its latest annual report the Canadian company Barrick Gold wrote that it will defend itself “energetically” against both civil actions. It also states that it has not allocated funds for a possible loss in these cases.
During the past 5 years the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global, also known as the Oil Fund, has strongly bought up Barrick Gold. Today the Government Pension Fund has 1,1 million euros invested in shares and bonds in the mining company.
Several other Norwegian funds have also invested in the Canadian mining company.
When Norwatch contacted Vince Borg, press officer in Barrick Gold, he did not wish to comment on the mining operations on Marinduque and the environmental conditions on the island because the cases are up for legal hearing.
FACTS: Possible Health Effects of the Heavy Metals in Calancan Bay
Lead is an extremely poisonous metal capable of causing great damage to the brain, the nervous system, the kidneys, and the red blood cells. It also results in increased blood pressure and risk of heart disease. Research shows that the brain damage from lead results in a lower IQ.
Nickel can reduce the resistance to lung infections on inhalation.
Cadmium inhalation is more dangerous than injection. Repeated or long-term exposure to cadmium, even in small amounts, can result in kidney damage and increased risk of cancer of the lungs, the prostate gland, and the gallbladder.
Mercury is damaging to all bodily organs and affects especially the nervous system, the heart, the liver, and the kidneys. The metal also affects the energy production in the cells.
Arsenic is a well-known poison. In small doses it affects energy production in the cells and results in various types of cancer.
VIDEO: Paradise Lost (42 mb, WMV-format)