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INTERVIEW:  Niger: “In Arlit, people drink water contaminated by radioactivity”

 This fear is also present in
 The word Areva is scary. It’s a taboo subject unless it’s to magnify the business. People want to talk, but like the Nigerian government, they feel helpless against this multinational. When I was doing my scouting, many people told me that I was putting myself in danger. Here, when you talk about Areva, it’s like a God, you should not call your name out loud.

In the documentary, you show this radioactive dust, poisoned water, houses built with land mines, contaminated food, livestock dying .

Houses must even be destroyed because the clay walls contain radioactivity.

The uranium deposits exploited by Orano (formerly Areva) are poisoning the population, explains Amina Weira, author of a documentary on the subject.

Interview by Matteo Maillard (Dakar, correspondence) http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2018/02/26/niger-a-arlit-les-gens-boivent-de-l-eau-contaminee-par-la-radioactivite_5262875_3212.html  THE WORLD  27.02.2018

It was a Tuareg encampment swept by bursts of Saharan simoun. Today it is a city that bears the mark of its development as its decadence. In Arlit, in northern Niger, uranium has been a source of hope since the French group Areva (renamed Orano in January) began mining the deposits in the 1970s.

Many nomads and workers came to this arid region. the workers’ city which was then called “the second Paris”. None knew the invisible danger of radioactivity.

Forty years later, Niger became the second largest supplier of uranium to Areva, but the mining of Cominak and Somair contaminated the population in its daily activities. It is in the sanded streets of her childhood that Amina Weira, a 29-year-old Nigerian filmmaker, posed her camera in front of the elders who lived through the early days of mining. In this film entitled La Rage dans le vent, presented in Dakar as part of the Films Femmes Afrique festival, she shows the invisible threat hanging over Arlit. Interview.

In your movie, the main protagonist is your father. You visit your relatives and tell the city of your childhood. Why did you choose this intimate setting?

 Amina Weira:   Because mine has always been part of our lives. My father worked there as an electrician. When my sisters and I saw him go to work, we imagined he was going to an office. The mine was visible from a distance, until in 2010 we visited his place of work and realized that he was going down into this big hole. I decided to make a film about it. I quickly understood, after research, that behind this activity was hiding something else less visible: irradiation. So I directed my film on the health aspect.

How did you realize the impact of the mine on the health of the inhabitants? 

When I was little already, the mother of one of my classmates had health problems every time she came to Arlit. It was necessary to evacuate it to Niamey, more than a thousand kilometers, to cure it. I did not understand why she could not live here. Later, when I wanted to do the film, I asked scientists and doctors about the dangers of mining. In Arlit, there are many health problems. Respiratory difficulties, cancers, women who give birth to poorly trained children … Small, we saw all that, but we did not make the link. People used to say, as often in Africa, “it’s his destiny, it’s God who gave him a child like that”. It is mostly mine retirees who are affected. Many die of paralysis and strange diseases.

 In the documentary, you show this radioactive dust, poisoned water, houses built with land mines, contaminated food, livestock dying …

I wanted to bring out everyday life, show all the activities of the city. We see the manufacture of pots: people recover the scrap metal from the mine, melt it and transform it into kitchen utensils that they sell to the population or export to Nigeria. They do not measure the danger of this activity. When they melt iron, the radioactivity is released. This is where Areva must intervene, preventing the population from recovering this contaminated scrap metal.

Houses must even be destroyed because the clay walls contain radioactivity.

 It should be understood that in the beginning, Arlit was a camp, a city of miners, then people came to settle, hoping to take advantage of this activity. Today, there are nearly 150,000 inhabitants, including about 4,000 mine workers. Areva created this city from scratch. The workers had to have all the conditions to stay. They had children, it took schools. They were sick, it took hospitals. To build, the inhabitants used the contaminated clay around them. Some neighborhoods are within 200 meters of the mine. The standards are not respected. And sandstorms propagate radioactivity in the city.

We also see women whose livestock die inexplicably.

When we drink Arlit’s water, we feel that it is not quite drinkable, that it is different from the rest of the country. The women talk about Areva employees who only drink mineral water, when they can not afford it. One of the mines is below the water table. Some are therefore deliver water from neighboring regions. A water tower has just been built, but it is not enough to supply the entire city.

 You do not present your film as an investigation, there are no scientists or organizations that support your remarks. Why ?

 I did not want to dwell on the numbers, but to give the floor to the people. Too often, we give the floor to the leaders of Areva. But many organizations have researched and analyzed radioactivity in the region, such as the Criirad [Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity], Greenpeace, WHO [World Health Organization]. Radioactivity levels are higher than the rest of the country.

What do you say to Areva?

 That they have monopolized our wealth without warning the workers of the risks incurred. They have relied on the ignorance of the people to make profit. The workers live in a city where they pay neither water nor electricity nor rent. There is a certain luxury that keeps them in silence, because it is difficult to spit in the soup. Niger has a very high unemployment rate. An unemployed youth is not going to think twice about offering these benefits. He gets used to this luxury and even if he realizes the harmful effects on his health, he will not say anything for fear of losing his job.

 Have you been pressured by Areva during filming?

No, not at all, it is rather the Nigerian authorities who wanted to block me. I had obtained filming authorizations from the National Film Center and Arlit Town Hall. We were arrested twice, but since I was in good standing, they left me alone. The title of the movie, Anger in the Wind, helped me a lot. They thought I was making a film about the wind, the desert, without much knowledge of the synopsis.
 
Why was the film censored in Niger?
By fear. When I propose the film to movie theater operators, they say they do not want any problems. They are afraid that my producers, who are part of the alternative environment, are perceived as opponents. I broadcast my film in several French institutes in Africa. That of Niamey also wanted to disseminate it, but it has not received the approval of the Embassy of France.

 This fear is also present in the population?

 The word Areva is scary. It’s a taboo subject unless it’s to magnify the business. People want to talk, but like the Nigerian government, they feel helpless against this multinational. When I was doing my scouting, many people told me that I was putting myself in danger. Here, when you talk about Areva, it’s like a God, you should not call your name out loud.

 Has the film been successful abroad?
Yes, it has been around the world since 2016 and has won a dozen awards. After Brazil and the United States, I was invited to Japan. I did not think one day make a movie that would be seen until there. It’s a pride, I tell myself that my work has served something. But I made this film for my country first and I hope that someday it can be seen there.

Towards the end of the film, a group of young Nigerians said, “We have richness in our basement, but all we are left with is radioactivity. Is it a shared feeling?
 
These young people are part of an association whose slogan is “the post-mine”. They say that uranium is a natural resource that will run out one day or another. In Arlit, which exists only by uranium, if this resource disappears or if Areva decides to no longer exploit it, what will become of it? Will the city continue to exist? If Areva leaves today, the only legacy left to them is this radioactive waste. This “post-mine” must be planned now. You have to prepare for that.

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February 28, 2018 - Posted by | health, Niger, secrets,lies and civil liberties, Uranium

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