The risky business of mining
By Charissa Zehr
Democracy, transparency and good governance become catchphrases during political campaigns and election cycles. In Haiti, these issues contribute to the deepening debate around mining. As the legitimacy of Haiti’s government continues to be questioned, some of Mennonite Central Committee’s partner organizations have expressed concerns that a proposed mining law could be passed by presidential decree without consent of the legislative branch and, more importantly, without consulting the Haitian people.
In 2013, the World Bank provided technical support to Haiti’s government to update the country’s mining law, making it more attractive to the Canadian and U.S. mining companies already interested in exploiting Haiti’s estimated $20 billion in mineral wealth.
The draft law is concerning for multiple reasons.
- The Haitian constitution states that natural resources are part of the “public domain,” and profits from mining are to be shared equally between the government, the company and landowners. However, the draft law does not guarantee farmers currently working and living on the land a fair share of the benefits.
- There is no clear compensation mechanism for use of or damage to land.
- All reports and documents relating to work completed by companies with mining rights will remain confidential for 10 years, including documents relating to social and environmental impacts.
- The draft was written in close consultation with companies that hold interests in Haiti but without input from civil society.
There are also other causes for concern about mining in Haiti.
- Haiti is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries for natural disasters. Mining would heighten the risks of these disasters by contributing to further environmental degradation.
- Mining threatens water quality and quantity. Almost half of rural Haitians do not have access to potable water. Mining operations use significant quantities of water and risk draining toxic waste into water sources.
- Mining reduces the limited amount of fertile land available for agriculture. In a small country heavily reliant on agriculture, deforestation and mountainous terrain already limit availability for farming activity.
Those who favor mining counter that job creation and new income avenues will expand Haiti’s economy. While mining has economic potential, extractive industries often take more from a country and its people than they give in return.
As Camille Chalmers of the Haitian Platform for Alternative Development, a partner organization of Mennonite Central Committee, noted recently, Haitians can produce the food they need to live and generate additional income when they have the land and water required. The cost benefit analysis for the Haitian people must take precedence over economic benefits of mining that will likely fall into the hands of a few.
If Haiti adopts a new mining law, it should be enacted by a democratically elected Parliament after an open and informed public debate. This is the kind of democracy the international community, including the U.S. government, should be supporting in Haiti – one that is inclusive, transparent, accountable, and just.
Information on the draft mining law and potential complications of mining in Haiti were provided by the Justice in Mining Collective, a coalition of Haitian organizations promoting the interests of communities affected by mining activity, supported by Mennonite Central Committee. For more information and resources on mining in Haiti, visit www.haitimining.weebly.com.
In December, MCC’s Ottawa office wrote about Canada’s involvements in Haiti and mining, here.