Author : M. Fayiah
Site of publication : Journal of Mining and Environment
Type of publication : Article
Date of publication : February 2020
Mining provides raw materials that have been a major source of revenue of Sierra Leone. This sector has made life easy and comfortable, and has equally been a major source of employment for thousands from mainly rural indigenes. However, the sector’s benefit has not gone without the acknowledgment of the fact that the sector has exposed rural communities to pollution and other environmental related problems.
Mining and its environmental, social, and economic consequences are a global concern, and have stimulated active debates among the environmentalist in this 21st century. Most often, mining communities are faced with social tensions as a result of the possible trade-off between the expected job impact and the negative consequences of environmental degradation. Mining is synonymous to both the environmental and social disorders on one hand, while, on the other hand, it is an engine for the socio-economic development of nations. Nonetheless, mining operations have disfigured and impacted the environment negatively, and are directly connected with the social impacts and life inequalities , especially in the adjacent communities. Specifically, mining operations have the potential to generate heavy environmental externalities like water and air pollution, soil erosion, chemical leakages, soil degradation and compaction, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem functioning disturbance. Basically, human health impacts, income disparity, and environmental misuse of mining operations are mostly felt at the local level, and these issues are the source of tension between the affected mining edge communities, governments, and mining companies.
Mining is synonymous to both the environmental and social disorders on one hand, while, on the other hand, it is an engine for the socio-economic development of nations. Nonetheless, mining operations have disfigured and impacted the environment negatively, and are directly connected with the social impacts and life inequalities , especially in the adjacent communities
Sierra Leone is endowed with a significant amount of mineral resources such as bauxite, gold, diamonds, and rutile, among others. Despite the significance of these mineral resources, a large school of thoughts believe that the exploitation of these capital-intensive minerals have not benefited local communities as expected.
The exploitation of diamonds in Sierra Leone is dated back to the 1930s, and since then, it has played a major role in the political and economic spheres of the nation but not without adverse environmental effects. The heavy gains from mineral extraction posed a serious environmental, social, and human right uncertainty and safety to the least developing nations for which Sierra Leone is no exception. The discovery and mining of diverse mineral resources over the years have given mix feelings among citizens across the country. There are those who believe that the nation’s catastrophe and environmental degradation is deeply rooted in it abundant natural resources; while another faction believe that the abundance of these natural resources has helped to shape the country’s economy and political landscape. Sierra Leone’s diamond industry was dubbed “blood diamonds” and believed to help fuel the civil war and other atrocities in Sierra Leone in the early 1990s. Studies have proven that a clear relationship exists between the human insecurity and the environmental degradation in Sierra Leone. Understanding the environmental, social, and economic consequences of mining activities in Sierra Leone is critical to combat future environmental dilapidation due to mining operations.
FAO warns that inasmuch as the government increases it emphasis on the economic growth, it will definitely require sound environmental policies, together with a sustainable management to prevent uncontrolled environmental damage, mostly caused by mining and agriculture. There is virtually no doubt that natural resources.
Mining is the second largest and important industry after agriculture regarding job employment and revenue generation in Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone, the weak implementation of mining agreement by companies and the little or no pressure by responsible government agencies to force companies to adhere to the sustainable mining protocols have contributed to the irreversible environmental catastrophe in most mining areas across Sierra Leone.
1.2. Overview of mining policies in Sierra Leone
Over the past decades, the following environmental instruments have been instituted to help protect the environment in the midst of mining and other land related activities. However, the national environmental protection policies have not been able to adequately guard and protect the local communities from the adverse impacts of mining operations, and this has led not only to environmental degradation but deepening the poverty levels among the local population. Mining operations have started in Sierra Leone over a decade; however, the country is still at the bottom of the development and environmental performance index ranking. This could be attributed to the poor adherence to sustainably mining protocols. Unsustainably, mining has adversely affected the environment over the years to a crisis level involving major degradation of the land, loss of biodiversity, and health risks. Valuable forest trees have been destroyed causing the animals to migrate to areas of less threat or go into extinction. The environmental performance index ranking of Sierra Leone over the past years is listed below. Sierra Leone has been ranked at the bottom of the index for years with 2018 ranking being the best year among the rest. The worst rankings have been seen in 2010, 2014, and 2016, respectively.
Mining operations have started in Sierra Leone over a decade; however, the country is still at the bottom of the development and environmental performance index ranking. This could be attributed to the poor adherence to sustainably mining protocols
Mining serves as a source of income through taxes, royalties, land lease payment, employment, and source of export with special reference to Sierra Leone. This revenue improves the livelihood in the mining communities and the country as a whole. On the other hand, mining leads to land degradation, erosion, run-off, pollution, landscape transformation, etc. These activities lead to low productivity, hence, making the land barrel and impacting local livelihood negatively.
2.1. List of Major Mining companies in Sierra Leone
As at 2014, there were five major registered companies operating in Sierra Leone. Due to the drop in demand of iron ore globally, the London Mining Company went bankrupt and folded up. Alternately, there are many smaller companies operating within the country, although most of them are unregistered. The leading companies among the major companies are Sierra Rutile Ltd, Koidu Holdings Ltd, and Shandong mining, respectively.
- Results and Discussion
4.1. Environmental consequences of Koidu holdings Ltd, Sierra Rutile Ltd, and Shandong Iron Ore mining in Sierra Leone
Koidu Holdings Ltd is mainly engaged in kimberlitic mining, which was discovered in 1948 by Sierra Leone Selection; Sierra Rutile is the world’s largest rutile mining company producing high quality minerals such as rutile, ilmenite, and zircon rich concentrate using dredge mining methods; whereas, Shandong Iron Ore is engaged in Iron Ore mining using heavy excavators and machinery. The kimberlitic mining process employed by Koidu Holdings Ltd involves the bombardment of mines sites at least twice a week when operation is in full gear. This process has created many large pits, and has negatively impacted the soil structure, composition, fertility, and landscape. Negative environmental impacts such as biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), loss of landscape, aesthetic beauty, degradation, noise pollution, soil contamination, surface water pollution/decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality are some consequences of the Kimberlitic mining in Koidu.
The environmental impact resulting from the operation include: (i) the degradation of the vast expanse of land exploited; (ii) the risk of flooding of surrounding villages (caused by linkages from the surrounding ‘dredging pond’): (iii) siltation in tidal creeks; and (iv) dislocation of several villages. This type of mining has the tendencies to create artificial flooding and ponds in dry areas and destroy any living thing along its operational route. These artificial lakes have the tendency of harboring wild animals like crocodiles, as well as serving as the breeding ground for mosquitoes. The landscape of Rutile mining communities have changed completely with lakes almost everywhere. Equally, the waste water coming from the Sierra Rutile factories are extremely toxic and polluted, and yet, its disposal safety practices is questioned by critics. These wastes are poorly handled in most cases, thereby leading to environmental pollution. Also these sites serve as a mosquito breeding ground, thereby putting the health of local residents at risk.
4.2. Social and economic impacts of Koidu Holdings Ltd, Sierra Rutile Ltd, and Shandong Iron Ore mining in Sierra Leone
Although the mining companies provide jobs, support the government through taxes, and pay royalties and land use compensations, their actions have not totally liberated the indigenes from their suffering. According to DIARSL, about 40% of Koidu Holdings Ltd profits is in the form of corporation tax ($200,000 per annum), annual surface rent of $25 per acre, and royalties totaling, and 5% of diamond sales and 4% of precious metal sales ultimately go to the state. These companies employ many local residents who are physically fit for labor jobs, while at the same time, employ citizens with skills from various parts of the country. Similar sponsorship programs and employments are undertaken by the Sierra Rutile and Shandong Iron ore mining companies.
However, the social injustice may outweigh the economic income earn from these companies. The Environmental Justice Atlas (EJA) have reported that socio-economic impact such as displacement increase in violence and crime, militarization and increas police presence, prostitutions, violations of human rights, land dispossession, and loss of landscape are footprint of mining operations. Additionally, the unchecked actions of companies have led to the loss of plantation fields, cultural, spiritual, societal, and monumental sites that once bind the local indigenes together with strong cultural and spiritual beliefs, as a village or community. The nearby communities who were not relocated are under constant discomfort caused by machines of adjacent mines sites, as well as dust, and eroded mine sediments. Abandoned mining sites and pits serve as a mosquito breeding ground, thereby putting the health of local residents at risk.
The Environmental Justice Atlas (EJA) have reported that socio-economic impact such as displacement increase in violence and crime, militarization and increas police presence, prostitutions, violations of human rights, land dispossession, and loss of landscape are footprint of mining operations
4.3. Mining as a source of conflicts in mining edge communities
Minerals are one of the root causes of the bloody civil war that lasting for more than a decade and took over 50,000 lives in Sierra Leone. Ross lend support and stated that “grievance mechanism” is when resource extraction creates grievances among the local population because of land expropriation, environmental hazards, insufficient job opportunities, and social disruptions caused by labor migration. Communities where mining operations are ongoing in Sierra Leone are the epicenter for conflicts and confrontations between companies’ securities and local residents. The current population of Sierra Leone stands at 7.2 m with a majority living in rural areas, especially mining communities.