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What it is we truly value

Site of the Porgera gold mine in Enga Province (Porgera Joint Venture)
Site of the Porgera gold mine in Enga Province (Porgera Joint Venture)

SIMON PENTANU

KIETA - I visited Enga Province for the first time in early July this year for a meeting between the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Papua New Guinea National Government.

The meeting was one of a number to consult on the outcome of the Bougainville referendum on independence that showed a huge majority of Bougainvilleans favouring the creation of their own nation.

I was privileged to accompany Bougainville President Ishmael Toroama and his wife as guests of Governor Sir Peter Ipatas on a helicopter ride on a breathtaking tour over significant sights and developments in the province.

This included flights over Porgera gold mine, Mount Kare, road construction at high altitudes connecting with Wabag township, protruding rock monoliths, amazing waterfalls and the beautiful Lake Surunki.

I later scribbled some notes with a certain hope that we can do a better job of looking after our planet and its resources.

After all, this is the only real capital we have and it offers so much if we care for it and avoid abusing, denuding and depleting it.

Enga has something more valuable than the Porgera gold mine. Water resources.

Clean, clear mountain water has benefits that sustains all sectors of the province’s population every day, providing much more sustenance than the proceeds of the gold mine will ever do.

It is a cardinal offence for mining projects to dump their effluent and waste into rivers and generate damage that can never be truly reversed.

A waterfall (Simon Pentanu)
A waterfall created over millennia plunges into a ravine in Enga Province (Simon Pentanu)

I believe it’s time for all legislation on environmental impact and damage from major projects, especially mining, to be revisited to gauge a scientifically accurate cost of the destruction mining inflicts on the land and its inhabitants.

Development and progress are in fact not achieved if they leave people worse off, unhappy, bewildered, deprived and less able to support their lives – frequently worse off than they were before mining arrived.

In that earlier time they had something more valuable than money that is exhausted when investors and developers pack up and leave.

Only then is the ratio of benefit to long term damage is seen to be lopsided.

Time after time we see ‘development’ leave people dependent, deprived, dejected and not independent.

The Panguna copper and gold mine in central Bougainville came to an abrupt, and bloody, end. BHP packed up Ok Tedi and left the Fly River a polluted and poisonous habitat. Porgera remains shut today because of argument about its benefits. The Ramu nickel mine offers the local population an environmental mess.

Mining companies should be confronted and questioned on these and similar issues wherever they are exploring for their treasure.

Mining should not be regarded as business as usual. It is not business as usual. It has left rivers polluted, landscapes razed, fisheries poisoned.

In reality, how much is Papua New Guinea benefitting from all its mineral resources, its forests and its seas?

And this before we begin to consider embezzlement and corruption.

Having made this observation I’m prepared to concede that Governor Ipatas of Enga has demonstrated vision, wisdom and determination in his choice of projects that benefit from mining.

As a result of these choices, a larger part of the province’s population should benefit compared to other provinces.

But no amount of money or so-called development can ever restore or recoup the capital that nature provides: the land, forests, clean air and water that sustain all life on our planet.

Comments

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Bernard Corden

The following link provides access to a fascinating article from Jonathan Cook entitled...."Why is the world going to hell? Netflix’s The Social Dilemma tells only half the story":

https://braveneweurope.com/jonathan-cook-why-is-the-world-going-to-hell-netflixs-the-social-dilemma-tells-only-half-the-story

Stephen Charteris

Wise words in a world of rapidly dwindling, pristine water resources.

In today's world, what is the worth of clear mountain streams and water courses unpolluted by fallout from plumes of toxic air from large cities, or any influence of mankind?

A great deal more than all the gold, oil, copper, gas or anything else the corporate raiders and pillage merchants will ever deliver.

What benefits have any mines delivered to the people of Papua New Guinea? Ask any person living along the Fly River or the Jaba River catchment into which Rio Tinto poured its Panguna poison.

The once pristine waters of the mighty Fly catchment might have been very valuable if piped southward. No longer. The heavy metal content coming down the Strickland and Ok Tedi have changed that forever.

As the climate emergency bites in ever more disastrous ways over coming decades, countries with reliable sources of clean, clear, unpolluted water will become the envy of the world. Mining is not a part of that vision.

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