Government and Mining Companies Should Remedy Problems, Add Protections
May 23, 2013

(Maputo) – Many of the 1,429 households resettled to make way for Vale and Rio Tinto’s international coal mining operations in Tete province, Mozambique have faced serious disruptions in their access to food, water, and work, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Mozambican government’s speed in approving mining licenses and inviting billions of dollars in investment has outstripped the creation of adequate safeguards to protect directly affected populations.

The 122-page report, “‘What is a House without Food?’ Mozambique’s Coal Mining Boom and Resettlements,” examines how serious shortcomings in government policy and mining companies’ implementation uprooted largely self-sufficient farming communities and resettled them to arid land far from rivers and markets. These communities have experienced periods of food insecurity or, when available, dependence on short-term food assistance financed by Vale and Rio Tinto.

“These multi-billion-dollar investments are supposed to drive development in one of the poorest countries in the world, yet they have actually made life harder for many people,” said Nisha Varia, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Mozambique’s government should work with Vale and Rio Tinto to make sure the resettled farmers have productive land by the next farming season and appropriate and timely compensation for shortcomings in the resettlement process.”

Tete province has an estimated 23 billion tons of mostly untapped coal reserves and is at the early stages of an enormous natural resource boom. According to 2012 government data, approved mining concessions and exploration licenses cover approximately 3.4 million hectares, or 34 percent of Tete province’s area. Coal mining accounts for roughly one-third of these.

This figure jumps to roughly six million hectares, or approximately 60 percent of Tete province’s area, when licenses pending approval are included. Not all exploration activity leads to mining projects, but the high concentration of land designated for mining licenses contributes to conflicts over land use. 

“The staggering concentration of land allocated for mining activities has profoundly limited the availability of good farmland and viable resettlement sites for communities slated for relocation,” Varia said. “The government should consider calling a halt to additional licenses until adequate protections are in place.”


During 2009 and 2010, Vale resettled 1,365 households to a newly-constructed village, Cateme, and to an urban neighborhood, 25 de Setembro, in the district capital Moatize. Rio Tinto acquired the Australian mining company Riversdale and its holdings in Mozambique in 2011. Riversdale and Rio Tinto resettled 71 and 13 households respectively to a newly constructed village, Mwaladzi, in 2011, and Rio Tinto is resettling an additional 388 households this year. Jindal Steel and Power Limited also has coal mining operations in Tete province and is planning to resettle 484 families.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 79 residents of Cateme, 25 de Setembro, Mwaladzi, Capanga, and Cassoca who were resettled or soon-to-be resettled to make way for these mining projects as well as 50 government officials, civil society activists, and international donors.

“We tell them the rights and needs of the people and then they just go away and never return with a response,” said Malosa C., a woman who was resettled. “We don’t have food, we don’t have any money to buy food, our situation remains the same.”

Human Rights Watch has also communicated extensively with Vale, Rio Tinto, and Jindal Steel and Power representatives about these issues, including more than 35 meetings, telephone conversations, and written communications.

Vale representatives have acknowledged that the land in the resettlement sites is arid and requires irrigation to improve its fertility, and a Rio Tinto communication to Human Rights Watch noted that it is “aware that the carrying capacity of the land in Mwaladzi is very marginal without irrigation schemes.” But as of April 2013, there were no widely accessible irrigation schemes in place. The relocation sites’ long distance from markets and residents’ limited transportation options have also reduced communities’ ability to earn non-farming income.

Resettled farmers in the Vale resettlement village Cateme have experienced delays in receiving their full promised compensation. As of early May, all resettled households in Cateme were still waiting for the provincial government to allocate a second hectare of farmland promised in their original compensation package in 2009.

At least 83 families in Cateme effectively have had no access to farmland because the first plots they received were filled with rocks or were reclaimed by their original users. As of April, Vale said it had not yet provided these households with any additional assistance for their extra hardship in the three years since they were resettled.

While Vale and Rio Tinto have carried out the resettlements, the Mozambican government is ultimately responsible for approving and allocating resettlement sites as well as monitoring the outcome.

There has also been insufficient communication between the government and the mining companies with resettled communities, Human Rights Watch found. Neither the companies nor the government have provided adequately accessible and responsive mechanisms for residents to participate in decision-making, lodge complaints, and seek and get redress for their grievances.

Frustrated by the lack of response to their situation, an estimated 500 residents from the Vale resettlement village Cateme protested on January 10, 2012, blocking the railroad linking Vale’s coal mine with the port in Beira. Brick-makers, many of whom have not been resettled but whose livelihoods were disrupted by the Vale coal mine, staged additional protests in April and May 2013 to complain about their compensation.

Both Vale and Rio Tinto have made private and public commitments to improve resettled communities’ standard of living. By early 2013, both had carried out projects to improve water supply and storage for domestic use and were pursuing ways to enhance availability of water for irrigating agricultural plots. They have initiated livelihood projects such as chicken cooperatives and instruction in new farming techniques. However, some of these initiatives may take years to come to fruition.

Mozambique’s government has taken steps to strengthen its legal framework, including adopting a decree in August 2012 regulating resettlements due to economic projects. The decree helps fill a critical gap and sets out basic requirements on housing and social service infrastructure. However, it falls short of providing key protections, relating, for example, to land quality, livelihoods, access to health care, and grievance mechanisms. Mozambique’s government should revise the resettlement decree with broad consultation with people affected by the mining projects, civil society, mining companies, and donors, Human Rights Watch said.

Governments such as Australia, Brazil, India, and the United Kingdom should monitor the human rights conduct of domestic mining companies operating in Mozambique, including requiring those companies to report publicly on human rights impacts of their operations. Private companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, including through monitoring to prevent human rights abuses through their operations and mitigating them if they occur.

“The Vale and Rio Tinto projects in Tete province are just the first in many large projects and resettlements likely to take place over the next few decades in Mozambique, making the lessons they have to offer vitally important,” Varia said. “The government should put effective protections in place as a priority so that people affected by new projects won’t suffer the hardships faced by people resettled so far. New resettlements, including those planned by Jindal Steel and Power Limited and Rio Tinto, will provide an important test of the effectiveness of evolving safeguards.”


Selected Accounts from “What is a House without Food?”

“I used to grow sorghum, enough to fill the storehouse, probably about five or six sacks. We had a full kitchen of maize. We used to buy food when there was a problem, but usually we didn’t have to. The farming land we received [upon resettlement] is red, not black like we had before. I tried to grow maize and it died. Sorghum also failed. The new house is just a house. I am not that satisfied. What I can say is, what is a house without food? I cannot eat my house.” – Maria C., resettled farmer, Mwaladzi, Rio Tinto resettlement village, October 5, 2012

“Sometimes they say the pipe is broken. Sometimes the tanks have a problem. Then we have to go with pots and go to other neighborhoods for water. In the place where we used to live, there was no problem with water. If no water was in the pump we could go to the river. Here you can spend two or three days without a bath because there is not enough water.” – Senolia S., resettled farmer, Cateme, May 17, 2012

“We tell them the rights and needs of the people and then they just go away and never return with a response. Last month we had a meeting … they just write down the things that we complain about … but they never come back with the answer to our complaints. So it means that we keep suffering the same problems that we have. We don’t have food, we don’t have any money to buy food, our situation remains the same.” – Malosa C., resettled woman, Mwaladzi, October 3, 2012