Uranium mining in Africa has dangerous impact on local population

Last month WISE (World Information Service on Energy) published a report on uranium mining and its effects on the local population in Tanzania, Cameroon, and Mali. This week they have invited a delegation from these countries to present the report to various Dutch NGOs and politicians and to speak about the impact of uranium mining. Yesterday they visited the Foundation Max van der Stoel (FMS). Some of the main conclusions: “We need to benefit from our own resources.” And, “Uranium mining must not pollute our environment.”

WISE is an organisation that strives for a world without nuclear energy. For this project they partnered up with several local NGOs. CESOPE is an environmental pressure group from Tanzania. They focus specifically on uranium mining. AMCFE is an environmental organization from Mali and SNJP is an human rights and peace organization from Cameroon.

“People need to be informed of the dangers”

Anthony Lyamunda (CESOPE) explained that the main problem in uranium mining is transparency issues. Uranium mining has been going on in Tanzania for quite some time, but awareness only came later. The government has been lying repeatedly about their exploration operations. Therefore Lyamunda emphasized that “dialogue is needed. People need to be able to give their consent.” Another issue is that of land rights. Lyamunda explained that the government is able to take land needed for the ‘public interest’. However, the inhabitants are only partially compensated: “No new land is offered to them and they are only compensated for what they have build on their land.”

Moriba Nomoko (AMCFE) from Mali went into greater detail about the dangerous impacts of uranium mining. He took the example of the Faléa area in Mali, where a French and Canadian company have a license for the exploration of uranium. While the township situated there  is about 400 km2, the license for uranium exploration has been given for an area of 150 km2. So, the local population only has a relatively small part to stay on.

Besides the issue of land rights, there is a much bigger issue with the effects of radiation. The independent organization CRIIRAD (Commission de Recherche et d’Information Independantes sur la Radioactivite) did research on the soil and the water and they found dangerous levels of radiation in both. Also, contaminated sand is used to build houses with. Consequently, many people live in houses build from contaminated materials. Also, the water used for drinking is not safe, since contaminated water is able to leak into the well.

For David Bayang (SNJP) it is important that everybody should benefit from the resources that his country possesses, but this is not the case at the moment. Cameroon does not export uranium, but it is researching its uranium potential. Bayang also emphasized the need of transparency and information: “People need to be informed of the dangers of uranium mining.” This is not only important for the local population, but also for neighbouring countries. Cameroon for example exports food to Chad, but there is the danger that this food will become contaminated due to the uranium mining.

Countries need to benefit from their own resources

As FMS  we wanted to know from the African delegation what it is that we can do. What can we ask our politicians here to mitigate the negative impact of uranium mining in these countries? The speakers agreed that respect for human rights and increased transparency are of utmost importance. Local populations need to be informed about prospection on their land and land that is inhabited by people and animals should not be used for mining. National parks and game reserves should also be protected from mining; something that is not the case right now in Tanzania for example.

Land used to grow food crops should be excluded from uranium mining, to prevent contamination of food crops. Not one country wants to be dependent on aid, and therefore it is important that local populations should be able to benefit from their own resources, such as uranium. Western countries should respect the African resources by paying a fair price and by respecting the natural and social environment.

Do you want to join the discussion on uranium mining? WISE and its African partner organizations organizes a public event on Friday May 16th. See here for more information.

By: Anne van der Meer

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