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Foreign uranium companies rip off impoverished Niger

the grievances expressed by representatives of local populations in the mining zones and pastoral peoples as well as government representatives. Concerns relate to radioactive pollution, water resource depletion, work-related diseases for mine workers, and the appropriation of land and water resources, including legally enshrined common property regimes and pastoral territories, without required compensation.

It is widely acknowledged among government staff that the Nigerien government is not able to properly implement its environmental legislation and monitor the uranium mining industry.

Niger: Development Cooperation Must Support the Environmental Governance of Uranium Mining THE ISN BLOG, Rasmus K Larsen 2 May 2013 Niger’s new development strategy, the Economic and Social Development Plan, is also intended to guide international development cooperation. Environmental governance of uranium mining, the country’s by far largest single economic activity, appears hitherto to have constituted a ‘blind spot’ for environmentally oriented development cooperation. It is now time to remove the blinkers and include support to strengthen environmental governance of the mining sector in new programmes to assist Niger in meeting its development challenges

Niger is well known in international media as one of the world’s poorest countries, struggling with chronic structural hunger and malnutrition. UNDP ranks Niger 186 out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index, and in 2011, five million people (33% of Niger’s population) were at ‘high risk’ to food insecurity.

What is less well known is that Niger also hosts the fourth largest uranium production in the world. Export values totalled over EUR 348 million in 2010, representing more than twice the total development assistance finance received during the same year. However, the state retains less than one fifth of the value of the uranium ore that is exported. The exploitation of the mineral wealth by international investors is expanding, with granted and requested mining concessions comprising close to 10% of the national territory…….

Attention to environmental impacts or risks associated with the mining sector goes seemingly without mention in the guiding documents of the principal development partners, including the EU, the World Bank, the UNDP, and the African Development Bank.

Severe environmental governance issues
This is in stark contrast to the grievances expressed by representatives of local populations in the mining zones and pastoral peoples as well as government representatives. Concerns relate to radioactive pollution, water resource depletion, work-related diseases for mine workers, and the appropriation of land and water resources, including legally enshrined common property regimes and pastoral territories, without required compensation.

It is widely acknowledged among government staff that the Nigerien government is not able to properly implement its environmental legislation and monitor the uranium mining industry. The Environmental Impact Assessment Bureau has only one person in place to verify all mining project applications in the country and, although legally required, not all verification missions are undertaken. The same applies to the National Centre for Radioprotection, which lacks the necessary capacity e.g. to undertake surprise inspections. The impacts and risks highlighted by civil society must be taken seriously. Due to deficiencies in the public administration, there are considerable constraints in enforcing and implementing the legislative and administrative framework – the very same framework, which development cooperation has helped to put in place……

Any mining activity will carry with it an environmental toll. The decision to sacrifice natural resources and human health, and ultimately lives of citizens, for economic gain will be the executive decision of the mandated political authority – in this case the Nigerien government……..

The Nigerien uranium mining sector is also intricately linked to the geopolitical energy security interests of some donor countries. The mines are operated by foreign companies (the French AREVA Group and Chinese investors). EU countries such as France, which has been involved in uranium mining since Niger gained independence, remain some of the largest buyers of the uranium ore – thus directly stimulating the mining activities and their detrimental impacts. This raises the question how donor countries could better supervise the behaviour of corporations incorporated within their own territories, thus implementing the recent UN guidelines for the supervision of multinational corporations (in “Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights”). Indeed, when transparent and comprehensive problem identification is missing as the basis for donor support, then it opens for speculation that the ignorance of mining-related environmental issues and the crisis discourse on desertification and food insecurity are mobilized as instruments to divert attention from geopolitical interests in the country’s mineral wealth.

With its new development strategy, the Nigerien government emphasises the urgency of increasing mining fees and extraction tariffs to raise the state revenue and strengthen oversight with mining corporations. Importantly, specific attention is also directed at the need to improve the coordination between the mining and environmental sectors and their limited human and institutional capacities. This should be interpreted as an invitation from the Nigerien government to its development partners to proactively support enforcement of the existing environmental regulations of the mining sector……

Hopefully, the concerns expressed by people experiencing the impacts of the uranium mining industry first hand will be included in the list of priorities for the on-going negotiation between the Nigerien government and its development partners, among them the European Commission and Danida, on how to spend the EUR 3.7 billions. http://isnblog.ethz.ch/isn-security-watch/niger-development-cooperation-must-support-the-environmental-governance-of-uranium-mining

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May 3, 2013 - Posted by | indigenous issues, Niger

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