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.