Fishermen have lost nearly half of their annual income for more than a decade due to QMM’s impact on local lakes (PWYP 2022).
Based on the information available, fishermen and usufructuaries received compensation equivalent to approximately £29 per annum, for each year of a thirteen year period of losses.
This amount is equivalent to one month’s income for a subsistence farmer living on less than $2 a day.
Landowners report payments as low as £0.02 per square meter in one payment received.
Additionally, between payouts, QMM imposed new penalties on the villagers, giving little in one hand while taking out a lot in the other.
For example, QMM has created a red zone, delineating natural resources, including a river and two local lakes that do not belong to them.
These water resources are in the public domain, but QMM tells the villagers that they can no longer use them.
Not only is there no explanation why, after ten years of mining, the lakes are suddenly out of bounds – but QMM has no legitimate mandate to impose such restrictions.
These lakes are the main source of sustenance, food and drinking water for the majority of the approximately 15,000 villagers living around the mine who, not thanks to QMM, do not have access to alternatives for their survival.
QMM has also announced, we are told, that it will requisition the only remaining rice paddies for a community and relocate sacred ancestral graves, despite local objections.
These and other terms that appear to accompany QMM’s payouts are not transparently reported.
They appear like the actions of a company desperate to affirm state power, far from the humility, the contrition or the attention that Rio Tinto has been spreading as a mantra since the Juukan Gorge debacle.
The actions are likely to add to the hardship and resentment of rural producers living on the poverty line, who have already lost more to QMM than they can afford.
When asked in February to provide details of the agreements QMM has made with the villagers, the company refused, saying the agreements were “confidential”.
The company insists that a notary and a mediator were present during the negotiations. However, these officers have been hired by QMM and have no guarantee of independence.
The absence of a third party advocate for the villagers during negotiations and for the establishment of legal agreements undermines any claim that the QMM process was fair.
Juukan Gorge’s investigative report contains numerous references to Rio Tinto’s inappropriate insistence on confidentiality in agreements with traditional owners, which prevents them from speaking up when they need to.
That the villagers of Antanosy experience the same conditions, “gagged” by QMM, should concern the company and its investors.
The same goes for the incidents of coercion and intimidation, reported by civil society to Rio Tinto last November, which have been ignored.
It should not be forgotten that when the 2022 protests began, QMM vilified rural villagers who took to the streets, lamenting that they were a small group of politically motivated extortionists.
As it is the year of national elections in Madagascar, it is likely that the authorities and QMM will again attempt to politicize the situation and criminalize dissidents.
A local leader, Eugène Chrétien, has already been arrested and banned from holding public meetings. His offense: a small personal debt, a civil matter already settled with the creditor.
Hundreds of people protested in court, believing QMM was behind the unnecessary arrest with the intention of suppressing the rallies and stopping a petition recently signed by thousands of local people against the company.
This leader and his lawyer were intimidated and threatened while in police custody. The lawyer is bring an action against the local police.
In the meantime, a complaint against QMM has been filed in court by a local MP for the villagers, claiming that the compensation has been insufficient.
Far from defusing the conflict and bringing peace to the region, it would appear that QMM has destroyed that opportunity and stirred up more unrest, while generally trying to reverse blame.
When the CEO asked representatives of Malagasy civil society during a meeting in London last July if QMM’s problems could be fixed, he was told “yes – but only if the right changes are made”.
In the absence of a positive change, the representatives of PWYP MG, ALT UK and Madagascar demand a independent audit of the QMM process.
QMM’s insistence on confidentiality is in itself a justification for an independent audit.
The audit must encompass the technical to the social. structural reasons for QMM dam breaksuntil compensation to affected community members thereafter.
It should explain in detail fish deaths and water quality issues that have been disputed since the QMM buffer zone violation was raised in 2017.
Above all, it should involve communities and civil society in scoping, guiding and monitoring the audit process to ensure that it is credible, answers all outstanding questions and has the teeth to fix the wrongs.
If Rio Tinto wants to convince the Malagasy people and the world at large that it has changed since Juukan Gorge, it must start providing tangible demonstrations of its intent.
Right of reply
A Rio Tinto spokesperson said yesterday The environmentalist“The recently concluded compensation process, led by the local authorities, was the result of a charter signed by QMM, representatives of the government, local communities and local NGOs and took place in the presence of a mediator and two independent community observers, who were chosen and accepted by the parties, to ensure the objectivity, transparency and neutrality of the dialogue Throughout the process, QMM made resources available to all parties to fund outside expert advice, if requested.negotiations were shared, by their representatives, with complainants.To protect the identity of beneficiaries, in line with international best practice, QMM did not made the results public.
He added: “Following three cyclones and extreme rainfall in Fort Dauphin in early 2022, a controlled release of water, authorized by the Malagasy regulator, was necessary to ensure the integrity of our infrastructure and the environment surrounding our operation. Analyzes and evaluations of QMM water samples made by the regulator showed no significant change in water quality in the receiving natural environment, and no link between mine activities and observations of dead fish made. by members of the community. The South African environmental research centre, Water Research Group (WRG) was commissioned by QMM This study, which investigated the cause of the fish kill phenomenon, analyzed a series of fish, water and of sediments taken from the same place where the fish died. as other critical monitoring points. Preliminary results of the study, which will be completed in the coming months, conclude that it is unlikely that the 2022 fish deaths were caused by any of the metal concentrations in fish.
Yvonne Orengo is an independent communications consultant and director of Andrew Lees Trust (ALT UK) a British charity established after the death of its namesake in 1994. It has lived and worked in southern Madagascar developing social and environmental programs, and it has followed the development of the Rio Tinto/QMM mine for over twenty-seven years. years. ALT UK is working with Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Madagascar and international campaigners to research and advocate for the impacts of the QMM mine on rural communities in the Anosy region of southern Madagascar.