By Joaquin M. Sendolo, with New Narratives
TAPPITA, NIMBA COUNTY— Kartee village, home to more than 40 members of the Kartee family, experiences its share of poverty. Residents of this remote area near Gbanepea Town, about a kilometer away from Tappita in Lower Nimba County, live in houses with mud walls and thatched roofs. They primarily drink from running streams and wells.
Kartee’s poverty profile is a paradox. The people of the village might be poor but are situated in a mineral-rich region of Nimba.
Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC) acquired a class “B” license to mine gold in Kartee in May last year. However, villagers here are worried their farmland will be affected by the mining project. They say the company’s operation may deprive them of clean drinking water and leave without a plan that will get them make use of their land. About 40 illicit miners were killed in the village in February last year after their mine caved in, recording the worst mining disaster in Liberia after the “No-Way” Camp tragedy in 1982.
“While we are not against the company mining here,” says Doris Kartee, a member of the family after which the village is named. “We like to know what will become of our farmland in the future.”
“People of this village and the entire town of Gbanepea depend on the bush to make farm, but since the company started we have not known yet what will happen to the land when they leave,” says Adolphus Kartee, Doris’ father, in the Gio vernacular.
National laws and international best practices recognize locals’ right to land and participation in concessions. Liberia Minerals and Mining Law of 2000 requires an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) of the land class “B” licenses are granted for. Similarly, the Land Rights Act—passed into law last year—gives communities the power to participate in lease agreements for their land. And mining concessionaires should get free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from communities they wish to mine, according to the United Nations.
UFC has not done an ESIA as the law requires, despite Samuel Larmah, the company’s Public Relations Officer claims it has done so. An ESIA shows how the mining project will impact the environment in Kartee and nearby areas and the way of life there. It also shows how a mining company plans to address those impacts, including land reclamation when the lifecycle of its mine expires.
“We will investigate the issue surrounding the operation of UFC to know their ESIA plan, but for now we cannot tell you that we know any mining company called UFC,” says Nathaniel Blama, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). ESIA is a requirement under the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia and non-compliant companies can be closed, fined up to US$50,000 and its officials serve a maximum 10-year term, or jailed and fined at the same time.
Gesler E. Murray, Lands, Mines and Energy Minister, says they are aware of UFC’s presence in Kartee Village and the government is monitoring its activities in terms of pollution and how sustainable it operates its mines. The Liberian company operates three other goldmines in Nimba and Grand Bassa as well as holds a gold dealership license in Monrovia.
“The Company should sit with the local people to discuss its ESIA plan,” says Dr. Eugene Shannon, former Minister of Mines and Energy, adding that it will avert future confusion between the company and locals.
“As mining goes on, big holes are dug and the minerals are washed. The holes dug are potential dangers for people to fall in, and the waterways are polluted. When residents drink water from there, they come down with intestinal gastro diseases such as diarrhea and cholera, because chemicals like lead are released during washing [of gold],” adds Dr. Shannon. “Besides other dangers mentioned, mosquitoes breed in the water set there and they infest us with malaria.”
People in Kartee Village, like those of other villages in that area, are mainly farmers. They produce rice, garden eggs, vegetables, fruits, sugar cane, and rubber.
“The local residents’ activities make the environmental concerns they have raised because at the end of the mining activities they will remain to make farm on the same land,” says Dr. Shannon.
Larmah claims the UFC is not ignoring the concerns raised by the local people. He discloses the company has a plan to mitigate mercury spilling into the environment. The company is currently clearing its concession land, including forestland in Kartee.
“When we complete and begin real mining activities, we will bring in all of our equipment, geologists, geochemists and other experts, and we will build our washing plant in the way that chemicals will not spill into the environment,” says Larmah.
The Environmental Protection Law of Liberia mandates the public to participate in the ESIA processes but that is not the case yet in Kartee.
“They told us that they will go to the EPA in Monrovia for the environmental aspect, but we do not know yet what will happen when they leave the place,” says Aubrey Wehye, Statutory Superintendent of Tappita statutory district.
UFC signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Kartee and the entire Tappita district. It is to build two junior high schools and two clinics for people in the affected community, reopen roads leading from Tappita to the boundary between Kartee village and Gborloryee in Yarwin Mensonnoh District, and from Tappita to Ziah Town, according to the MOU. The company also agrees to grant scholarships for five student-villagers, reserve senior managerial positions for two villagers, employ 28 others and pay the community US$15,000 in each of the five years of the MOU.
“The company has done what it takes for a company to sign an agreement to operate legally in an area,” says Representative Dorwohn Gleekia of Nimba County District No.6 where Kartee Village is located.
However, Mr. Kartee is still wary of the future of his village after when the company license expires. “This land is all we have and living by,” Kartee tells the Daily Observer. “We don’t want time to come tomorrow and we have nowhere to farm when the company leaves, and this is why we want them with the government to tell us exactly what they will do after taking the mineral.”
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the Excellence in Extractives Reporting Project. German Development Cooperation provided funding. The funder had no say in the story’s content.