MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining Giant Rio Tinto Defends Madagascar Project

Published by MAC on 2004-05-17

The following is an article that recently appeared in Planet Ark, but this website had publushed a much larger report looking at the project which can be viewed here.

Mining Giant Rio Tinto Defends Madagascar Project


May 17, 2004

Nairbobi - Mining giant Rio Tinto on Friday moved to defend the company's controversial plans to develop a titanium mine on the island of Madagascar, which environmentalists say will threaten the unique ecosystem.

The world's second largest diversified miner wants to develop a $350 million titanium dioxide mine which will have a production capacity of 750,000 tons a year of the mineral used mainly as a pigment in paint, plastics and paper.

Rio Tinto is to decide whether to go ahead with the project by mid-2005. The mine would be in operation for some 60 years. But Friends of the Earth say the project would dredge hundreds of millions of tons of mineral sands along a 6,000 hectare strip to extract the mineral, devastating forests and endangering rare wildlife.

"We've heard these concerns before and I think we are doing as much as possible to ensure we protect this incredible habitat and have a positive effect on the local community," Daniel Lambert, director of Rio Tinto's Canadian subsidiary QIT Madagascar Minerals (QITMM) told Reuters by phone from Montreal.

Rio Tinto has been examining the possibility of developing the mine, near Fort Dauphin on the southeast coast of the Indian Ocean island for over 20 years.

Since the mid 1980's through to the mid 1990's, we have put a lot of effort into understanding the biodiversity of the area," said Lambert. "We have spent years studying the ecosystem and all the plant species."

Conservationists say of the estimated 200,000 plant and animal species on Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island, three quarters exist nowhere else in the world and believe the project will devastate old forests and endanger wildlife.

"The threatened littoral forests are irreplaceable and anywhere else in the world habitats of this importance would be formally protected," London-based Robin Webster, corporates campaigner from Friends of the Earth told Reuters.

But Lambert says only a portion of forest is to be cleared. "The majority of the proposed site where the deposit is has already been cleared or is highly degraded by the local community who need the wood for fuel," said Lambert.

Lambert said 200,000 hectares of forests are destroyed annually in Madagascar by locals, most of whom live on less than a dollar a day, and that Rio Tinto would restore the forest by planting fast-growing trees, setting up nurseries and conservation zones. "You can never put back what was there to begin with, but we can put in place conditions for a forest to start the ecological succession process," said Lambert.

Friends of the Earth have also voiced social concerns about some 50,000 people living near the proposed site, saying many will have to relocate and an influx of migrant workers may exacerbate the spread of HIV/Aids virus.

Lambert said there were no people living on the site of the deposit and added that the company hoped to employ around 600 people from the local community, rather than migrant workers.

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