Sierra Leone: Communities allege that mining firm poisoned the water, destroyed houses in a lawsuit; company comments

Author: The Money Web, Published on: 6 August 2019

"Sierra Leone community’s suit against diamond miner shows activist trend", 6 August 2019

At the foot of a slag heap some 40 metres high, Adi Kalie Bangura showed the black welts that dot his arms and legs that he says are the result of drinking and bathing in water contaminated by Sierra Leone’s largest diamond mine. The water “makes us get headaches and feel sick in our stomachs,” said Bangura, a traditional healer and community elder in Koidu, the largest city in the West African country’s diamond-rich Kono district. The aluminium roof of the mud brick house he shares with a dozen family members is pockmarked by holes he says are the result of rocks loosened by years of blasting by the mine. Bangura’s claims are part of those made by a group of Koidu residents in a lawsuit against diamond mining firm Octea Limited and related companies, highlighting how communities in developing countries are becoming increasingly emboldened to use courts to pursue grievances against mining firms.

The group alleges Octea poisoned the water, destroyed houses and failed to relocate hundreds of households away from the blasting. According to a 2003 mining-license agreement, the Octea subsidiary that operates the mine Koidu Limited said it would relocate all households within 500 metres of the mine. The complaint, filed in Sierra Leone’s High Court in March, claims $288 million in damages for “degradation or destruction of land, destruction of homes and loss of livelihoods and …dumping of toxic mine waste,” among other things. On July 22, a judge ruled the case was “adjourned for judicial recess” until the end of September. In an email response to Reuters, Octea, which operates the mine, said the allegations were “baseless and without merit.”

…In its response to Reuters, the mining company said: “Octea Limited and all its subsidiaries including Koidu Limited, have always adhered and continue to adhere to the highest standards of health and safety according to international best practice,” the statement said. It added that the Koidu mine “has not used harmful chemicals in any of the blasting processes” and now only blasts underground which has “no environmental or social impact.” Koidu residents also allege compensation has been insufficient. Local landowner Kumba King said her livelihood was impacted following damage to her crops and trees and that the 60 million leones, or about $6 500, of compensation she received on behalf of the mine for those and her house was “considerably lower” than their value, according to court filings. She added in the court filings that Octea and its affiliates have never offered to relocate her. In its response to Reuters, Octea said all local residents within the 500-metre safety zone “have been compensated in full” in accordance with local regulations and laws and international standards

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Related companies: OCTÉA (part of BSG Resources)