Climate change and mining has been affecting communities and environment in Fiji

Much of Fiji’s coastline is fragile – under threat from climate change, coastal erosion and flooding, which has become more severe in the past two years – it’s also being affected by mining.

Black sand mining by a Chinese owned company called Amex Resources Ltd has been happening at the Ba River Delta on the north of Viti Levu for most of the past two years.

Another project, by a Fijian subsidiary of Australian company Dome Gold Mines, is exploring black sand deposits near the Sigatoka Sand Dunes on the south coast of the main island.

That site is adjacent to the Sigatoka Sand Hills National Park, which is reported to be close to World Heritage status.

Environmental advocacy group, Jubilee Australia, is calling for the mining to stop, saying the communities have not been properly informed about the implications of the projects.

Spokesperson Fyfe Strachan said Jubilee was calling for consultation with the people to ensure they are able to give free, prior and informed consent to any mining development.

“In Ba the community is starting to see some environmental impacts already occurring from the project, including impacts on crabs and fish stocks, and in Sigatoka members of the community that they just really concerned to have a better understanding of the risks and the environmental impacts of those projects before those projects are given the green light to go ahead,” she said

Jubilee Australia’s report is called ‘A line in the sand – investigating black sand mining in Fiji’.

A Fiji environmental and human rights defender, Tevita Naikasawalu, backs the Jubilee call, saying the natural resources, the foreshore, are irreplacable.

“Without them the people who depend on them will not survive, given our current situation. We are in Covid and our economy has dropped, I think behind zero now,” he said.

“The only thing that is sustaining us is our natural resources.”

The co-ordinator of the social, ecological and justice programme for Caritas in Fiji, Kositatino Tikomaibolatagane, said communities at Ba that did consent, were misled.

“So some of them actually gave their consent because they said there is only exploration and they signed and gave their signatures but at the end of the day when the mining takes place then t hey realised what they had signed before was actually the consent form to do the mining,” he said, adding everyone in the communities must be fully informed.

Sigatoka River, Fiji. Photo: RNZI/Johnny Blades

The executive director of Fiji’s Council of Social Services said there needed to be a rethink of the way the country went about development.

Vani Catanasiga said her group, as part of the National Disaster Council, has had a lot to do with communities affected by climate change.

She asked whether, with Fiji having experienced three cyclones last season and increasing incidents of coastal flooding, mining on the coastline is a good idea?

“If we are facing increased impacts of climate change, shouldn’t our development options be reviewed. Should we look at options that don’t increase our vulnerability but instead increase our capacity to cope with something that is really beyond our control, like climate change,” Catanasiga said.

An opposition MP in Fiji said the lack of information coming through to the people is down to the government.

Lenora Qereqeretabua said she has seen faults in the government’s approach when she has attended consultations around the country.

“I find that the language used in those public consultations is not a language understood by the communities – so there are a lot of layers that still have to be dealt with before communities can give free, prior and informed consent,” she said.

Qereqeretabua said another flaw is environmental impact assessment reports were expensive and could cost people thousands of dollars.

She said they should be free.

The Mineral Resources Minister Jone Usamate has promised a comprehensive statement is being prepared on the Jubilee report.

Dome Gold Mines chairman Jack McCarthy, in an email to RNZ Pacific, claimed the report was full of misleading claims designed to create concern within the community.

He said Dome complied with the many regulations that protect the population and environment.

McCarthy, told RNZ Pacific in 2016, when it was first looking for an exploration licence that the mining effort around the Sigatoka River mouth would improve water quality by allowing the river to flowing more quickly, and allow transport up the river.

Amex Resources Ltd, which we could not reach, has told the Fiji Sun it would lodge a comprehensive complaint with the Mineral Resources Department over a report it claimed is full of lies.

This story was produced by Don Wiseman at RNZ on 31 May 2021, reposted via PACNEWS.

Banner: Sigatoka sands Photo: Facebook/ RNZ

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