Communities on the frontline battle with mining and climate change in Sierra Leone

By Mohamed Konneh

Everything about Adama and her family remains fatigue, painful or for better words exude exhaustion. Her round brown eyes and thick black eye lashes presents sadness, while her bulbous body throbs with pain.

“The operation of London Mining PLC some seven years ago in their community left behind memories of misery including huge piles of mining waste,” she explains in a tired voice as we sit on a long bench in their mud brick house, surrounded accompanied by her sister and six children nestled few distance to their mother in Sierra Leone’s fabled Village of Chaindatta, in the Northern Town of Lunsar in the Port Loko District. Then the rains came, and did the rest.” The worst rains in years in northern Sierra Leone washed away their entire crop. Those rains poured through the cracks in her mud home caused by mining and the huge pile of waste left behind in the village as a result of mining activities.

Adama Talks to Diana Coker in this interview

The cracks are showing everywhere in a fragile land now doubly cursed by the extremes of mining activities and climate change.

The increase in temperatures in the Northern Province are projected to be 1.3 times higher than the global average, a UN Report 2017.

“It hasn’t been on our knowledge,” says the Paramount Chief PC Koblo Queen 11 of Marampa Chiefdom in the Port Loko District.

“We often look at mining and community beneficiation, and maybe underdevelopment, but now we see that climate change is leading to the destruction of crops among communities and this is a different kind of disaster.”

Sierra Leone has a major problem of mining in this part of the country. The mining boom in 2009 brought hope to communities but this was short lived as all the companies closed down during the Ebola Outbreak. The boom that that faded away in a twinkle of an eye left the country with nothing but misery among the people who depend on land for their livelihood. The threat of drought in this part of the country is visible as the effect of mining left behind some painful experience.

In 2010 the entire village of Manonkoh seven miles from Lunsar Town was flooded. Crops were destroyed including livestock and farm lands. Seven water points were contaminated leaving the villagers with no alternative except upper stream water that were far away from the community. The situation led to several strike action by community youth leading to the interventions of civil society groups and the media. Communities were only rescued after the intervention of activists and sustained media campaigns. Broadcasts of the findings and publication forced the London Mining PLC providing food stuff for the people and cleaning the contaminated water points.

But behind this danger, there is another gathering storm. The villages of Chaindatta, Manonkoh, Madibo, and Pepel – represents some of the world’s poorest and most fragile villages, and they are regarded as the most vulnerable to climate change.

The visit to this northern town and onto the village of Chindatta, was startling to see how the consequences of climate change and mining activities are woven through the fabric of lives in what has always been a harsh existence on the edge of the encroaching Lunsar Town in the Port Loko district.”The fragility of Lunsar town and its surrounding villages stares you in the face,” remarks Adama as we walk around the huge pile of waste and talk, in a sparse village setting for families who now buried their deaths at their backyards.  The village grave yard have been overtaken by the huge pile of waste brought from the mining site to the village across northern Sierra Leone.

Huge pile of waste left behind by London Mining PLC

“The whole attention of the country and its government is on high visibility on the diamondiferous district of Kono, where diamond mining is somehow successful and still taking place. Here mining has stop since the outbreak of Ebola and much is yet to pick up but with a new mining company beginning to do some work communities are hopeful that things will get better this time round.

Sierra Leone is now lurching between mining and floods and by extension climate change. They are both lasting longer and inflicting a huge cost on crops and livestock. Most of the country’s forest cover have been removed as a result of mining and logging.

The United Nations report say Sierra Leone is the third most vulnerable country to climate change disaster and the need to increase her forest cover.

And this means farmers and community people, from different villages, are facing off over shrinking resources.

“There’ve always been small clashes between mining companies and farmers but water levels are decreasing and that’s creating a lot of tension,” explains Esther Kandeh Executive Director, Women in Mining (WOME) an advocacy platform for community beneficiation but also employment facilities for women in community where mining activities takes place.

Mining companies are also fuelling these fires by meddling in community affairs (Land owners Vs ordinary community people- Land Owners and CSOs groups working on mining).

“They come in promising to bring development to our people and the community and then try to impose their way of living on us,” explains Adama of Chaindatta Village.

“We don’t accept this kind of treatment and especially when wider consultations are not done to keep the people abreast of mining activities in the country”

Every story we heard in Lunsar by extension Chaindatta and Manonkoh was a tale of multiple threats, all terribly tangled.

“We lost all our crops and livestock in the flooding of 2012 and had to endure the raining season that year. We further in the village to do farming but the mining activities at that time could not chance us to do so,” Adama says as she showed me around the village five miles from Lunsar on a dusty bumpy road that only motor bikes can take you there.

A mother of six children, she’s also lost her husband. She now lives with her six children and survive through petty trading and charcoal burning.

“His elder brother the town chief of the Chaindatta had join the new mining company-Sierra Mining that will soon start mining operations after London Mining PLC hasd left some seven years ago. ,” she recounts as she explain painfully and had to talk to her children making noise around while we talk.

At the backyard shelve in one corner, there’s another reminder of a life in little pieces.

Thumb-sized packets of salt, onions, dried fish and tomatoes are assembled on a small wooden tray, put on sale. This is so because the mining area is no go area for petty trading at the moment.

Bags of charcoal parked along the main entrance of her house – another business venture to try to make ends meet.  This trade and its cultivation add to the burden of climate change and destruction to the environment.

And in her narrow walled compound – and everywhere else we went – the noise of giggling children are another signal of what lies ahead.

Populations in the Northern Town are doubling every years as the news of mining operation is aired, every generation more fragile than the last.

The World Bank says Africa and the Sahel region is falling behind in the global battle against poverty.
We meet 23 year-old Santigie Sesay at the center of the village in Chaindatta, coming from the mines. He work as a security guard spending eight hours at the checkpoint the road leading to the mines.

Chaindatta Village five miles from Lunsar Town

Nearly 40 young men, aged 18 to 23, are tucking into the company concession most of whom some are security guards while others are diggers a tedious work that is bone breaking and tiresome.

He tells us poverty forced him and other young boys and men to venture into this type of work and to stand in the sun for eight hours a day while his elder brother left to watch over their little farm plantation.

“But there was no better yield, and nothing for the family to eat. I have to go into mining where we get little at the end of the month to help the family feed.

“To survive, I had no other choice but to get into the mining security job available” he said.

He details how he earned the equivalent of six hundred thousand Leones approximately $ 80 USD a month, working as a security guard.

“I don’t want to work as a security but this is the only job available here for people like us and with little or no better education,” Santigie says, his face visibly saddening. “I want to be with my family again and continue with my farming business.”

Standing in the sun eight hours a day and sometimes at night is a tedious job. Sierra Leone mining situation is a mix bag but there is hope with new companies coming and government on the verge to review the mining laws. The government is also determine to revamp the sector and make it attractive.

PC Koblo Queen 11

Chief Koblo Queen 11, is leading reforms in Mining activities in the district. Together with the new mining company they are taking stock of the past and engaging stakeholders in communities in Lunsar
‘We are mediating between landowners and the company and that shortly before operation the company has decided to give each household a bag of rice as the beginning of good things to come. The government is serious about mining and we too are ready for the development of our communities and the district,” he explains.

As for the flooding this is as a result of climatic conditions but we are talking with the mining company for a possible relocation of communities affected by the mining.” Koblo Queen explains.

But the fear of the people in this part of the country is the huge pile of waste which is believe aggravate flooding whenever there is heavy rains.

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