MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling! December 30 2004

Published by MAC on 2004-12-30

London Calling! December 30 2004

Tsunamis and mining: a natural disaster?

Para acceder a una versión en español de este artículo, siga el siguiente link

We are told by geo-scientists that only Nature moves the tectonic plates beneath the Pacific and Indian oceans. So, this week's unfolding tragedy has nothing to do with climate change and global warming. But this is a monstrous oversimplification of the real nature of this type of disaster, and the widespread refusal to consider whether its consequences rather than the initial cause might have been minimised.

International experts - and many others - have concentrated political fire on the absence of tsunami early warning systems in the Indian ocean region. No doubt this is true but, at best a 90 minute or 2 and half hour period of grace would have brought some fisherfolk in from coastal waters and got tourists out of bed onto higher ground.

It wouldn’t have saved any homes, land or much property along the beaches. And what to do after that? Although the scale of what occurred will spring millions of dollars in assistance, and some longer term development grants, lets remember what happened (or rather didn't) to the people of Bam.

The earthquake which struck Iran almost exactly a year ago killing 30,000 people - triggered promises of a billion dollars worth of aid. How much was actually paid out? Just US$17 million, while thousands of people remain effectively destitute.

Man-made consequences

Many of the lives lost in Asia (more than 120,000 last Thursday and still counting) might have been saved, had corals and mangroves remained in place to absorb the impacts of the waves. (see article below).

But innumerable natural barriers such as these have been sacrificed to artificial shrimp ponds (serving richer palates than most Asians can ever afford), to tourist belts, industrial installations (ironically in India some of these were themselves struck by the onslaught, notably nuclear power plants under construction) and mining.

Yes, mining - including the destruction and depletion of lime-rich coral reefs by blasting; the denuding of mangrove swamps to make way for commercial salt pans (as in India); mineral sands extraction (Kerala, South Africa, Mozambique and now projected for the east coasts of Kenya and Tamil Nadu), and the wholesale removal of coastal sands and rocks as building materials (throughout the Asia-Pacific). Our Mines and Communities site has long carried a document entitled The Destruction of Construction. The description gains a new meaning in the light of recent tragedies. For there is little doubt about the mounting attrition of coastal resources throughout southern and southeast Asia, caused by the global construction industry.

Add to this, the damage caused by mining on small islands and atolls throughout the region (something condemned by a UN Pacific conference twenty five years ago), the use of submarine tailings disposal (we dont, and may never, know what damage the tsunamis did to current STD pipes in Indonesia), and the prospect of massive seabed mining in the next few years (for which Australia and Papua New Guinea seem to be taking the lead). It is starkly obvious that commercial need for minerals is driving unprecedented destruction of oceanic and coastal defences.

Future tsunamis or not, the arguments for banning all beach and seabed mining, oceanic mineral wastes disposal, and the coastal location of smelters and power plants, have long been self-evident.

Now is surely the time to press the lessons home.

Tuticorin: a specific case to answer

Reports from India last weekend indicate that, although the port of Tuticorin in southern Tamil Nadu was hit by the first tsunamis, industrial projects along the coast were relatively unaffected. This reprieve is almost incidental - and certainly no cause for comfort. A power station is situated right on the shore-line, while Vedanta/Sterlite’s copper smelter with its huge piles of arsenic and gypsum - lies only a few kilometres from the sea. For years coral and sand mining has afflicted the Mannar Gulf, a biosphere reserve; and until recently Vedanta was piping its wastes directly onto the ocean floor. Two months ago, plans to commence coastal mineral sands mining in the area were measurably advanced.

[“London Calling” is published by Nostromo Research, London. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of any other individual, organisation or editors of the MAC web site. Reproduction is encouraged with full acknowledgment]

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