Malawi: Govt. & mining investors should respect local communities' right to access information, says Human Rights Watch

Author: Katharina Rall, Human Rights Watch, Published on: 9 April 2018

"Malawi: Govt Should Keep Promises to Rural Residents, Protect Them From Mining"

Information is key to protecting the health and the livelihoods of people in areas affected by economic development. And that is why a 10 percent cut in the Malawi Human Rights Commission's budget announced recently is such bad news. The commission plays a key role in the implementation of a new law that gives every citizen of Malawi the right to access information from the government. Lucia, a 52-year-old mother of five children, is among the people who are waiting for the government to make this right a reality. She lives in a village in rural Malawi, where a coal mining company moved in nearby. "I didn't know anything about the mining before the machines came in," she said. "They didn't give us any information, they just started digging."

When I was doing research for Human Rights Watch's report on the human rights impacts of mining in Karonga district in northern Malawi, I talked to many women like Lucia who grow cassava, maize and rice to feed their family. The government has never told them whether pollution from the mines is affecting their fields or what they need to do to protect the health of their children. The government has tested the nearby water only a few times and has never told the community the results. Information about water quality and soil pollution is crucial for protecting the rights to health, water, food and a healthy environment. This is especially important for people who live in poor and rural areas and are exposed to increased risks, such as communities located near Malawi's mining areas...

When we talked with the residents in Karonga, we also found that some families had been relocated by the companies without receiving adequate compensation for their houses, fields and land. The families – and in particular women – were not informed about the relocation process or about the compensation the government had required the companies to provide them. Malawi's extractive industries are still in their infancy. The government and investors should respect rights and minimize the risks faced by communities and natural ecosystems, even as they push for economic development.

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