By Erik Hagen
A gold mine in the Geita district of Tanzania could be causing great environmental damage. The mine has become a poisoned trap for its neighbours, who are struggling with, among other things, skin and respiratory problems. The giant AngloGold Ashanti, which is partly owned by the Norwegian Government Oil Fund – Global, is responsible for the mining operations. Furthermore, Norwegians participated in the construction of the mine.
In 2000 Norwatch wrote about all the problems connected with the Geita mine. More than 4000 farmers had then been forced to move from their properties, and environmental activists were worried that large amounts cyanide could damage the ecology of Lake Victoria, 20 km downstream from the project. One of the greatest critics of the project was Wangari Maathai, who was later to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Now, 7 years later, it turns out that the environmentalists could be right.
The Norwegian construction company who built the concrete foundations for the mine, Noremco, says their involvement has been very limited.
9000 Times Too High
A master’s thesis that is now in the process of being approved at the University of Dar es Salaam shows sensational findings. Food plants at the village of Nyakabale in the vicinity of the Geita mine contain a level of heavy metals that is as much as 9000 times the maximum permitted level established by the World Health Organisation and the World Food Program.
Soil samples show a level that is 6000 times higher than the maximum level.
The poison level is so high that it endangers the health of both humans and animals, according to the thesis. The whole Lake Victoria basin could also possibly be threatened by the drainage from the mine activity, the master’s thesis claims.
The investigation has been carried out by the Tanzanian Manfred Felician Bitala, in the field of Integrated Environmental Management. The thesis will most probably be approved by the sensors next week. In his thesis Bitala also presents photographic material of what is supposed to be damaged crops that will not grow. The two photographs at the end of this article show a poisoned field in the village, together with a patch that looks as it supposed to.
“When I arrived at the location, I saw that large mounds of stone mass from the mining operations had been dumped not far from the settlements. Whenever there was a heavy shower, brown water would drain down the sides of the mounds, down to areas where people lived,” Bitala told Norwatch on the phone.
The stones that had been dumped probably contain heavy metals that have been fetched up from deep under the earth’s surface.
About 2000 people live in Nyakabale village, according to Bitala. Some of them live as close as about 40 meters from the closest tailings. He related that they were told that they were safe there and that they therefore were not moved when the mine was established.
Now, however, the people declare that they are struggling with constantly increasing health problems, such as pneumonia, respiratory problems, non-bacterial diarrhoea, and malaria. They ascribe the problems to the mining operation, according to Bitala. “They say that none of them had such skin problems before the mine was established in the area, but it is of course up to the medical experts to determine the exact effect of the environmental problems on the population,” Bitala told Norwatch.
He said that the company had set up a measuring station for dust in the middle of the village, but the population does not know the results of the investigations. The village people also told Bitala that the rain water that they collect from the rooftops has a blackish colour and has an irritating effect when they drink it.
The water sources in the vicinity are frequently used by the local population. In the photo on the right children are bathing in a local river.
Farmer Kanana Benedicto (below right) is one of the Keita mine’s many neighbours. Benedicto said the skin of his face became damaged after he had worked in a river near the village. His skin has started to fall off.
According to Evans Rubara, a representative from the Norwegian Church Aid who visited the village in February this year, representatives from the company are supposed to have visited the village and advised them not to drink water that they collect from rooftops.
Norwegians Participated in the Construction
8th of April, Norwatch wrote that the Norwegian contractor Noremco had participated in the construction of the controversial gold mine in Bulyanhulu in Tanzania, where 52 people are believed to have been buried alive. Noremco has also participated in Geita.
In 2000 Norwatch reported that 10,000 m3 concrete was used when Noremco made the foundations for the largest crushing mills that has ever been raised in connection with gold extraction. The Geita contract was at that time worth US$4 million, according to then Norwatch coverage.
On enquiry from Norwatch, Mikael Loof, managing director at that time, did not wish to comment on any of the controversial subjects of the involvement. He said that Noremco, as contractor, had nothing to do with questions like that. “Noremco is a reputable contractor in Tanzania, with a long history without ethical problems,” Loof wrote to Norwatch.
In an e-mail to Norwatch today, Noremco responded that their involvement in the Geita and Bulyanhulu mines have been of a very limited nature, and that they are surprised of the way their company's role has been described by Norwatch.
"Noremco has carried out activities in East Africa with main office in Dar Es Salaam for more than 20 years, and I can assure you that we have on several occasions taken ethical concerns into consideration. We have emphasised to work along ethically correct principles, and at least follow laws and regulations", wrote Noremco managing Director, Tor-Ivar Foshaug to Norwatch.
With regards to Noremco's role in Bulyanhulu, they said to Norwatch that they were totally unaware of the stories regarding 52 people who were allegedly buried alive when they carried out the work in the area. "And we have not heard of these speculations until a long time afterwards", wrote Foshaug to Norwatch. They have therefore never raised the issue with the operator of Bulyanhulu mine, Kahama Mining.
Norwegian Pension Money
The future pension earnings of Norwegians are invested in the company behind the Geita project, AngloGold Ashanti Ltd.
On 31 December 2007 the Pension Fund had shares and bonds in the mining company worth € 112 million. In addition, the Pension Fund has shares worth € 453 million in Anglo American, which owns 17% of AngloGold Ashanti.
AngloGold has 21 mining projects all over the world and was established in 2004 after the merger of the mining companies AngloGold and Ashanti Goldfields Corporation. The company is registered on five stock markets on four continents.
Norwatch sent inquiries about the Geita mine to AngloGold Ashanti last week and is waiting for a reply.