What is wrong with mining?
Mining TNCs have relished a boom in the industry, in spite the fact that this has
increasingly become a serious problem to the environment and to the survival of peoples
of many developing countries.
Communities and organizations all over the world are witnesses to immediate and long
term impacts of mining on the environment. “Mining: Social and Environmental
Impacts,” a publication of the World Rainforest Movement has summarized these, to wit:
.. Deforestation that affects the habitat and continued existence of hundreds of
endemic and may be endangered species, impedes the constant flow of water from
the forests towards other ecosystems and urban centers, causes rapid fluid runoff
of rainwater, increasing flooding during rainy periods .
.. Open pit mines and other surface impacts, and the consequent erosion and
siltation of water systems that continues to worsen from growing heaps of rock
residues or wastes from the mining process (tailings).
.. Water depletion from enormous consumption of water by mining activities,
drying up wells and springs, and depriving communities of their supply of water.
.. Water contamination by acid mine drainage, that is, the drainage formed when
typically highly acidic ores, like pyrites (FeSO2 ) from surface mining, deep
mining or coal refuse piles are exposed to air or water. A self-perpetuating acid
material is generated that can go on for hundreds or even thousands of years,
depending on the presence of these ores in the area. This liberates latent toxic
chemicals (arsenic, mercury, cadmium and lead) in the soil, that when they reach
water bodies can aggravate pollution and destroy almost all forms of aquatic life.
.. Water contamination by hazardous chemicals used in the various stages of metal
processing, such as cyanide, concentrated acids and alkaline compounds.
.. Air pollution from dust generated by mining activities that may cause serious
respiratory troubles or allergic reactions in people and asphyxia in plants and
trees. The process also releases gases and toxic vapor from metal treatment, like
sulphur dioxide – responsible for acid rain – and carbon dioxide and methane
from burning of fossil fuels – two of the main greenhouse gases causing climate
.. Noise pollution from the machinery used in mining and the blasting that creates
conditions which become unbearable for the local population, the forest wildlife
and worsens integrity of land forms.
.. Depletion of forest resources as mining activities consume enormous quantities of
wood for their construction
.. When carried out in remote zones, mining activities imply major works such as
road building (opening access to the forests), ports, mining villages, the deviation
of rivers, construction of dams and energy generating plants.”
However, a far heavier concern is the sufferings that peoples are made to endure from
TNC mining. Their mining operations, abetted by local business and corrupt governments
in the developing countries, fast deplete the mineral wealth of these countries and erase
opportunities for them to develop. Their operations also impact on health, alter social
relationships, destroy forms of community subsistence and life, cause social
disintegration, radical and abrupt changes in regional cultures, displace other present
and/or future local economic activities.
We have to add the hazardous and unhealthy working conditions of workers in this type
of activity. This is not to mention how mining corporations, oftentimes tolerated, if not
protected, by military forces, impose their plans on communities resulting to countless
cases of human rights violations.
Mining of mineral resources is essential in the production of industrial and consumer
goods, in agriculture, communication, transportation, and other industries that can help
poor countries overcome their underdevelopment and improve their people’s economic
well being. They form the basis of industrial development.
Yet, most developing countries, rich as they are in minerals and other natural resources
and for decades mined out by foreign corporations, remain barely subsisting, unable to
address poverty, unemployment, and lack of health and education services. These
countries hardly get close to where developed countries like Australia, Canada, the
United States and New Zealand have become.
Where lays the problem? Where does all the wealth go and who benefited?
Firstly, operations of mining TNCs are extractive and plunderous, the sole motivation of
which is to gain profits. Its drive is to extract more and more minerals, at the cheapest
cost. There is hardly space for judicious extraction and production of minerals. The
higher the cost of minerals in the world market, the more rapacious, extractive and
environmentally destructive mining TNCs are in their frantic drive for profits.
Secondly, mining TNCs do not extract minerals from developing countries for the latter's
use and development. Mining TNCs extract minerals for export and sale to their clients,
which are usually their mother companies that are also involved in production of finished
products in developed countries.
Thirdly, the conditioned backwardness of developing countries prevents them from being
able to accumulate capital and acquire the technology to develop industries. So how
could they extract and produce mines for their own development? This backwardness is
perpetuated by the unequal relations between imperialist countries and their semicolonies
where the latter is relegated to providing raw materials for the former’s
This is why the aspired development has never come for developing countries, whose
governments remain beholden to the interest of developed and imperialist countries and
allow them relentless extraction of their vital resources. The rich and powerful TNCs,
whose interests steer multilateral financial institutions, exploit developing countries’
indebtedness to pry open and plunder the latter’s natural wealth.