MIDROC is set to reopen: we welcome business, no polluter

By Ibsa A, June 8, 2020

A sign now warns against swimming in ponds near the mine, where a swimmer is pictured in 2013. Unreleased reports found water near the mine contains exceptionally high levels of the toxic chemicals cyanide and mercury.

Tom Gardner1 of the New Humanitarian wonderfully exposed the grim reality of MIDROC’s toxic waste that is crippling the health and wellbeing of the communities. Gardner, in his report, referring to sources, underlined that water around Laga Dambi, in Shakiso, Oromia, contains exceptionally high levels of toxic chemicals such as arsenic, cyanide, and mercury which are dangerous neurotoxins, which cause adverse birth defects including spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, congenital anomalies, preterm birth, and low birth weight. Even in adults, exposure to these toxic chemicals will have serious adverse effects. For example, exposure to cyanide causes heart, brain, and nerve damage, respiratory failure leading to death. The communities around the Laga Dambi mining were devastated by the pollution. The outcry of the people forced the MIDROC to suspend its operation. According to Gardner1, MIDROC is set to resume its operation. What measures have been taken by MIDROC and the government to address the pollution and the grievances of the people? Is the government going to allow Al-Amoudi, the tycoon, to pollute rivers and wombs, or is Al-Amoudi going to respect the will of the people? The burden is on the government and Al-Amoudi.

Cyanide and mercury are deadly chemicals2. Cyanide and mercury readily react with other heavy metals. Because of their ability to dissolve and release gold and silver from ores, cyanide and mercury are used in gold mining. According to Gardner, 100-kilo vat of mercury left in the Laga Dambi mine is not accounted for. That refers only to the amount for which there was a record.  When was the last time mercury was used by MIDROC? Even if mercury is not used in the gold extraction process, cyanide can release mercury naturally present in the ore1, causing further toxic contamination in the surrounding water and soil. Cyanide also causes the release of other toxic metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and silver3,4. The mixture of cyanide and sulfuric compounds create acidified runoff that leaches out toxic chemicals. The toxic chemicals released from the ore and tailings ponds further contaminate the surrounding water and soil1,3,4.

The toxic chemicals from the mine pollute the environment and accumulate in plants, fish, domestic and wild animals. We ingest, drink, or inhale these poisonous chemicals with the food we eat, with the water we drink, and with the air we breathe. We also become exposed to these toxic chemicals when we bath or swim in the polluted rivers and lakes. Domestic and wild animals face similar dangers.

Lessons from other communities

Lessons from other communities provide a stern warning.  In the 1950s, communities in and around Minamata, Japan, were affected by a crippling disease that was linked to mercury waste from an industrial complex.  Like MIDROC, the Japanese company denied the allegations that mercury waste from its plant was causing the illness5.  The company continued its manufacturing without changing its method of production, discharging toxic waste into the environment. Toxic chemical polluted rivers and its fishes, the staple diet of the community.  5 “As the mercury dumping continued, poisoned women gave birth to poisoned babies. The children were born with severe deformities, including gnarled limbs, mental retardation, deafness, and blindness.”

By 1959, scientific evidence conclusively linked the disease to mercury poisoning. The community sued the company. However, the company tried to make a deal with selected individuals, not the community. Ultimately, the company was charged guilty of the crime. The company has since paid an enormous sum of money to the victims. Long after the incident, the devastation continued. The widespread birth defects due to merucry poisoning led to the Minamata treaty that prohibited the use of mercury in mining. The company is still being sued. The Japanese government is also on the hook for failing its duties of protecting the victims once the birth defects and neurologic abnormalities were linked to mercury poisoning.

Victims of congenital Minamata disease

Victims of congenital Minamata disease

The above pictures show the victims of mercury poisoning, from Japan.

Mercury poisoning, Indonesia, ©Price

Mercury poisoning, Indonesia © Price

 

   (a)

(b)

(c)

Effects of toxic mercury poisoning, Shakiso, Oromia
Images: a, b & c, from social media.

A just cause

What happened in Minamata is being repeated in the Laga Dambi area. The toxic chemicals from the mines are poisoning wombs, harming babies, and are crippling bodies. The chemicals are polluting the earth and devastating the communities. “We are the walking dead,” as quoted by Gardner. The inhabitants were outraged by the exploitation. The outrage was part of the Oromia wide protest. The people, including elementary and high school students, risked their lives and protested. Their outrage ousted the brutal TPLF regime from the Minilik palace. The protest also forced the government to shut-down the mining and to revoke the license. The people were enraged. They were angered by the poisoning of the un-borne babies, the poisoning of the mothers, and the pollution of lakes and rivers. The people were upset by the contamination of the wombs and the mother earth. The people protested the lack of medical care for their poisoned babies, children, and mothers. They protested the looting of their resources, the destruction of the environment by the tycoon. They were angered by the lack of jobs and the denial of opportunities. The people were outraged by the marginalization and injustices.

The outrage forced the government to halt the re-issuance of the license. It has been two years since the license was suspended. The poisoning has continued. Yet, no medical care for the diseased children, their parents, and the community. The communities are powerless. No lobbyists are speaking on behalves of the communities. Even no representatives of the communities were included in the committee tasked to plan for the reopening of Al-Amoudi’s toxic mines. Oromia is a sleeping giant. The force that ousted the TPLF from the palace is not backing down. The Abba Gada echoed it well: “If the government wants to reopen the mine, first of all, it must talk with the local community and answer our questions.1

The burden is on the government.

Protecting the public and its interest is the duty of the government. Will the government allow Al-Amoudi to continue to poison babies, putting all in harm’s way. Will the government side with the polluter or with the communities and protect the unborn babies, their communities, and their futures?  If the government sides with the polluter, at the abandonment of the communities, what makes the PP different from the TPLF?

I pray that the government stands with the victims. I hope the government addresses the root cause of the crisis. Addressing the root cause starts by involving the affected communities, whose survival is at stake. Since the protest forced the government to revoke the license, what measures have been taken to contain the pollution? Did the government provide medical care for the devastated families, drinking water for the community, and their domestic animals in place of the polluted rivers, food for those crippled by toxic chemicals?

The government promised to investigate the toxic poisoning of the lives, lakes, and rivers. It promised to dig to the bottom of the health and environmental devastation meted to the communities. The government said it would task an independent body to investigate whether the toxic chemicals from MIDROC’s plant are causing the widespread miscarriage, birth defects, and environmental problems. The government promised to publish the findings. The authorities declared to charge Al-Amoudi to compensate the communities and to clean up the mess if the findings link Al-Amoudi’s toxic waste to the birth defects and the crippling disease. So, where are the findings of the investigation, and what prevented the government from publishing it? Why are both the Federal and the Oromian regional state leaders tight-lipped on the matter? While Al-Amoudi is negotiating the reopening of the toxic plant, why is the government keeping the affected communities darkness?

The government needs hard currency to discharge its duties. I understand that. Though money can be borrowed, life has no replacement. Moreover, why is the government not pursuing the money looted by the EPRDF leaders6, about $2-3 billion a year for over 30 years – 60-90 billion U.S dollar since we got the EPRDF.

On the other hand, toxic waste from the tailings ponds will continue to pollute the rivers. Even if MIDROC’s license is not renewed, the poisoning still will continue to affect the communities. Birth defects, and crippling health impacts, will continue to occur in the communities long after mine closures because mercury will not disappear from the environment7. Unless the government executes corrective measures, the crisis will continue to worsen. However, renewing the license will aggravate, further, the devastations.

I assume that the government is trying all it can to redress the damages, enact, and execute sound and sustainable mining policy that can benefit all the stakeholders. However, the government has continued to delay the release of the findings of the investigations. The secrecy and coverups, withholding of information from the public, willfully or not, are eroding the public trust. Therefore, the government should release the findings of the investigations before reissuing the license.

The tycoon can buy it all!

Could it be because the reach of Al-Amoudi is far and wide? The tycoon can buy as many lobbyists as he wishes from outside and from inside the government. Al-Amoudi is thrilled to resume harming babies, poisoning mothers, polluting the rivers and the mother earth. As a result, the poisoned mothers give birth to poisoned babies, babies with birth defects, with twisted and shortened limbs, with reduced mental capacity, adults with crippled bodies, while Al-Amoudi stashes the looted wealth into his pocket to improve his rank as a billionaire.

Source: Tiret, the MIDROC Ethiopia Group Corporate Magazine

Al-Amoudi is the most powerful person on earth. Under God, with his money, he has polluted rivers. He is able to ditch millions, babies and mothers, and all the community members, into the poisoned rivers for now and in perpetuity.  He is also capable of lifting them if he chooses to, saving them and their future generations. He could do it well while still making a profit sustainably. So, which way will he move? What is his calling beyond the profit? Whichever way he moves, he must be a fool to expect a free ride in Oromia.

References

  1. Gardner, T. (June 1, 2020). Exclusive: Health woes, outrage, and toxins near Ethiopia gold mine. The New Humanitarian. https://kichuu.com/exclusive-health-woes-outrage-and-toxins-near-ethiopia-gold-mine-2/
  2. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). (1999). Toxicological profile for mercury. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tfacts46.pdf
  3. Fields, S. (2001). Tarnishing the earth: gold mining’s dirty Environmental Health Perspectives. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1242089/pdf/ehp0109-a00474.pdf
  4. Fields, S. (2003). The earth’s open wounds: abandoned and orphaned mines. Environmental Health Perspectives https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1241402/pdf/ehp0111-a00154.pdf
  5. Boston University. The Minimata disease. https://www.bu.edu/sustainability/minamata-disease/
  6. Steinman, D. (March 3, 2017). Ethiopia’s cruel con game. Capital flow. Forbes.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2017/03/03/ethiopias-cruel-con-game/#1bb114f329d0
  7. Ismawati, Y. (2016). Children’s exposure to environmental toxicants. UN Committee on the rights of the child 2016 Day of General Discussion “Children’s Rights and the Environment.”

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