Despite many obstacles, particularly in terms of communications infrastructure and access to remote areas, the Sepik Wetlands Management Initiative has achieved important results.
A great deal of work was put into developing and increasing understanding of basic rights contained in the country’s Constitution as well as understanding people’s rights in relation to documenting evidence and presenting it to the mining company. Much more work is necessary in this area as knowledge of basic rights is scant.
A second outcome has been increased awareness of the kind of critical information and tools needed by villagers to make informed decisions. Many more resources and organizations have been brought to bear on the problems faced by different communities. The project is now focused on coordinating different networking opportunities.
A consensus-driven plan for a communication strategy was approved by villagers in the Middle Sepik region. There is a growing awareness among the local people of the urgent need for more sophisticated communication channels. However, there are problems insofar as Internet by phone is available but costly, making it almost inaccessible to the majority.
The project has instilled a sense of hope, a need to engage and a need to change but also a realization that there are many steps to take before people have the capacity to respond effectively. Villagers have indicated a great desire to get organized in order to build the partnerships needed and take further steps to achieving their goal. The logistical and funding challenges cannot be ignored.
However, the local people are continuing the struggle and will make renewed efforts to communicate their concerns in every way possible.
Thank you to all those who have supported this vital work!
The follow-up work to the baseline study undertaken since the beginning of 2012 has continued at a slower pace than expected given the complications and obstacles of travel in the area. As with the river communities along the Mid Sepik the main form of transport is by river. Part of the follow-up work was to extend the fact finding survey to the Lower Sepik area, which involves working closely and at length with local community leaders.Despite the difficulties in reaching some of the areas and the lack of an adequate communications infrastructure, there is a positive sense among the villagers who feel that the formation of a formal association to represent the interest of the river communities is highly appropriate. This would be the best way to communicate the opinions, concerns and hopes of the local people whose lives and livelihoods are being affected by mining interests in the region.
The construction of a copper and gold mine will have a serious impact on the lives of indigenous people living in a remote corner of Papua New Guinea, affecting the environment and the local economy and culture.Struggling for justice and presenting their case requires villagers on the Middle Sepik River to have access to information and communication. And yet a survey carried out in the Upper and Middle Sepik villages confirms that there has been little sharing of information on the part of the Xstrata mining company or the Government of PNG.Undertaken by the Sepik Wetlands Management Initiative (SWMI) with support from WACC, the survey assessed awareness and knowledge regarding the potential social, economic, cultural, political and environmental impacts of the new mining complex on the region and its inhabitants.Between 13 and 16 of April a team of three resource persons, a boat skipper and an assistant travelled from village to village to gather data and conduct interviews and meetings with the local people. In all, 16 villages along the Sepik River were visited: Kamanjaw, Ambunti, Sanaut, Korough, Suatmeri, Indavu, Yentchen, Kanganamun, Tigawi, Kararau, Kamanimbit, Indingai, Aibom and Kandinge.The findings show that while 7% knew of the mining company’s presence in the villages, 93% had no proper awareness of the potential impact of the mine on the community. Villagers raised serious concerns that the mining company is not doing enough to inform people of its plans. The same concern exists among the community with regards the government of PNG.With regard to impact of the mine on the community, all the villages showed great fear and concern that the mine and its supporting infrastructure will have serious biophysical, social , cultural and economic consequences on the Sepik River communities. The survey determined that the biophysical environment is the single most important factor that connects the lives of all the people in the Sepik River region. Any detrimental impact on the biophysical environment will affect the food chain as well as the river communities socially, economically and culturally.The report recommends that the mining company conducts proper awareness and information sessions among all the affected communities; that an association is formed incorporating three smaller groupings from the Upper, Middle and Lower Sepik River communities; and that social infrastructure services must be in place prior to the commissioning of the mine.After sharing of the results of the survey with NGOs and the communities themselves, the project began planning a similar survey in the Lower Sepik and the formal organization of the association that will represent the interest of the villages before the mining company and the government of PNG.
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