The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that the signing of Access to Information (ATI) Bill into law by President Peter Mutharika can bring hope to mining communities in the country who were failing to access needed information about the mining activities in their respective areas.
Katharina Rall, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Malawi government promotes investment in mining and resource extraction but ordinary Malawians have been struggling to access information on the impact of mining operations on their lives such as effects on water and fields.
Last week, Malawi’s Mutharika took a positive step by signing into law a bill that enables people to request and obtain vital information such as water-quality testing results.
Human Rights Watch through its researcher Katharina Rall hailed Mutharika for signing the bill into law but warned that more awareness is needed for ordinary Malawians to use it.
“For the new law to make a meaningful difference, Malawians need to know how they can use it. Accessing information under the law should be a simple process for everyone – including for people who cannot read or write,” Rall said.
She said that training sessions for
communities and government officials will also be important.
“Civil society organizations and journalists can play an important role by raising awareness about the right to information and holding the government and mining companies to account. The new law, if carried out effectively, could be a boon to mining communities that have long sought answers to questions literally of life and death,” she said.
Last September, Human Rights Watch released a report showing how Malawians have been left in the dark about the risks mining activities pose to their daily lives
For example in the report released by HRW last year, Rosbelle, a mother of seven children, revealed that a couple of years ago, the Eland Coal Mining company started mining coal near her village in rural northern Malawi.
The company promised villagers a new school and jobs, and Rosbelle had high hopes for her children’s future. But in 2015, Eland Coal Mining – a subsidiary of a Norwegian- owned company – ended its operations and abandoned the mine.
The report revealed that that there was no rehabilitation of the mine site, and left behind were piles of coal and open mining pits filled with water. Since then, Rosbelle has worried that the water that she and her children drink might be polluted by toxic substances often found at improperly cleaned-up mining sites.
“Malawi’s government has failed to protect the rights and livelihoods of people living in nascent mining
communities. Families living near coal and uranium mining operations face serious problems with water, food, and housing, and are left in the dark about health and other risks from mining,” said the report.
Rall said that when she spoke with Rosbelle last year, she said that, at a minimum, the “government should come and talk to the community about mining” and “educate them including about the risks.”
But the authorities have never told the community about the dangers of mining and whether the water from the local river and boreholes is safe to drink.
“Her village and other mining communities, as well as local organizations, have repeatedly asked the government to release the results of water testing, without avail,” said Rall.