April 2021 marks four years since Andrew Lees Trust (ALT UK) first raised questions at the Rio Tinto AGM about the breach of an environmental buffer zone in Southern Madagascar by the company’s subsidiary Qit Mineral Madagascar (QMM). The breach was of concern as it suggested QMM mine tailings were entering local waterways and exposing them to contamination from the mine process (churning of sands concentrates radionuclides, for example).
Approximately 15,000 local people fish and draw their drinking water from this lake and the waterways adjacent to the mine and are dependent on the health of their natural environment for survival.
ALT UK commissioned a number of studies to review the impacts of the breach and concomitant concerns about radioactivity and water quality. These independent studies, together with external reports from QMM and others, have been analysed by an expert hydrologist and the findings demonstrate that the mine is discharging unsafe levels of heavy metals in its wastewater and contaminating local waterways.
It took two years for the company to finally admit that QMM had breached the environmental buffer zone and had encroached onto the bed of the adjacent lake Besaroy, by more than 90 metres (well over a 100 metres according to hydrologist, Dr Steven Emerman, 2018).
However, the company continues to deny that QMM is responsible for contaminating local water, although the recent QMM wastewater report (2021) confirms the elevated uranium levels and lead in its discharge waters, well above WHO safe drinking water limits, as well as elevated levels of cadmium and aluminium above the legal limits set by the Malagasy Government.
Since March 2019, and together with Publish What You Pay ( Madagascar and UK) as well as Friends of the Earth, repeated requests have been made in writing and in face-to-face meetings with Rio Tinto HQ in London for the company to address its wastewater management, review the safety of its dam structure, and provide safe drinking water to mine affected communities. Recommendations have also been made for communicating the issues to local people, and technical solutions proposed for addressing the water contamination problems.
The majority of local people are still without access to safe drinking water sources.
Understand the issues
To help explain the complex issues around the water contamination we have produced a number of resources and communiques online, including:
INVESTOR BRIEFING (English) 2021
SUMMARY BRIEFING (Malagasy) Fampitam-baovao: Ny fitrandrahan’ny Rio Tinto QMM, Madagascar
QUESTIONS : exploring some of the unanswered questions, as at April 2021
VIDEO 1: PWYP MG on the situation of human rights defenders in Madagascar and about the study of communities around QMM
Yet again we are participating in an AGM action to hold Rio Tinto to account. We join other NGOs from around the world where communities are facing similar issues, to demand that Rio Tinto honour its pledges including to human rights, the environment, and to Sustainable Development Goals, among its wider international and ICMM commitments.
6-9 April 2022 : Week of Action with London Mining Network
The Trust’s advocacy work is premised on a human rights based approach and the Trust is a member of various coalitions seeking to promote human rights, corporate accountability and justice for indigenous people and local communities affected by negative development activity, including London Mining Network, Publish What You Pay UK and the Corporate Justice Coalition.
We will continue to work closely with Publish What You Pay (MG, and UK) on the QMM issues, to ask questions of Rio Tinto at its 2020 AGM (on April 9th 2021) and to continue to press Rio Tinto to meet local safe drinking water needs in Anosy as expressed by mine affected communities to PWYP MG last October – see the PWYP MG report here