Earlier this month, looking out over the vast swathes of barren red land that make up a fast-growing bauxite mine, I witnessed first-hand the rapid growth of Guinea’s bauxite mining boom. Bauxite from Guinea is used to produce aluminum used around the world in automobile and airplane parts and consumer products like beverage cans and tin foil.
Human Rights Watch released on October 4 a report detailing how the focus on rapidly expanding mining, combined with inadequate government supervision, has devastated the lives and livelihoods of many rural villagers. Traveling in the Boké region, the capital of the bauxite boom, it was clear how powerless many people feel as they witness mining companies destroy ancestral farmlands, damage their water sources, and coat homes and trees in dust.
In responding to our report, the Guinean government and mining companies described the steps they are taking to address the impact of mining on local communities. The mining ministry emphasized they are undertaking “vigorous actions” to address the consequences of mining, including auditing companies’ environmental and social practices. La Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG), one of the two companies cited in our report, said it is implementing an amended company land policy aimed at better respecting the land rights of rural farmers. La Société Minière de Boké (SMB), a mining consortium our report showed had failed to anticipate and mitigate the impact of mining operations when it began operating in 2015, has said it will roll out a new environmental and social management plan in 2019.
These actions suggest progress. But in visiting the Boké region, little of these improved practices have so far trickled down to communities. In Hamdallaye, a village where CBG has promised to replace farmland lost to mining in recent years, villagers still don’t know how much land they will receive or when. The village, protected from the harsh sun by trees whose stature reflects the village’s own history, is in 2019 to be relocated to a new site that currently more closely resembles an abandoned mine than a habitable village. In Lansanayah, a village where SMB has begun a program to rehabilitate an abandoned mine by planting cashew trees, villagers aren’t sure whether the newly-planted seedlings will survive the coming dry season.
Guinea’s bauxite boom is only just beginning, with new companies arriving and others planning to build refineries that bring even more risks for communities. While commitments to address the rights impact of mining are welcome, it is in communities most affected by mining where real change needs to occur.