SHARON ISAFE | PNGExposed Blog
IN A RECENT ARTICLE published in the Global Mail, freelance journalist Jo Chandler (pictured) discovered the secret behind a spate of deaths along the Fly River.
It's no mystery she wrote, sadly the disturbing mortality rate is a product of an absence in basic health services, combined with severe social dislocation caused by the Ok Tedi mine.
Citing evidence from a World Health Organisation briefing Chandler wrote:
Their examinations identify sickness and disease emerging from years of accumulated neglect, compounded by dirty water, poor nutrition, crowded living conditions, too many babies, lack of roads and power, decaying or abandoned health facilities and hardscrabble lives made harder by shifting tides and islands of sediment, soil erosion and vegetation dieback, and the loss of fish catches and crops.
She continued several paragraphs later:
Ok Tedi’s operations over a generation have provided critical infrastructure, opportunity and services to some of the world’s most isolated and challenged communities, plus 2,000 direct jobs (95 per cent of them going to local people) and as many again spun off through local businesses and subcontractors.
But in the South Fly villages I visit the only evidence of substantial trickle down from its USD1.45 billion annual revenue is the sediment. It raises the riverbed and spills water onto the land, wiping out food gardens and spoiling drinking water, even exposing old graves. Such issues are serious enough to prompt the mining company to consider relocating severely impacted communities.
One senses something calamitous when one of the most profitable mines in the world is surrounded by some of the worst displays of ‘development’-based rural impoverishment.
Yet not all journalists see things this way. With their friends smarting inside the Ok Tedi Development Foundation (OTDF) - the ones charged with maladministering community compensation payments from Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) – some in the media fraternity have taken it upon themselves to find some good news stories, its Christmas after all.
Cue Malum Nalu.
Given that women along the south Fly die needlessly from cervical cancer, one would imagine that investment in rural health services may be more defensible.
Not so argues Western Province Governor, Ati Wobiro. He is quoted by Nalu as saying, “our people in Western province are very fortunate that we have money from Ok Tedi and we have very good managers like Mr Middleton and his OTDF team who can turn this money into something tangible”.
Tangible? Western Province may have an aeroplane, but some children would prefer tangible mothers.
Nevertheless, Malum Nalu reports:
Middleton said this new aircraft including the first one which arrived in October this year, would be leased to OTML for 15 years”. OTDF’s Middleton explains, “on behalf of the CMCA communities OTDF has secured a 15-year master lease agreement with OTML with a guaranteed 8% return per annum for the aircraft with the Ok Tedi mine life extended.
But, can this 8% return replace the lost productivity produced by the Fly River’s desecration? Nalu never asks. And what about investing in rural health services, what sort of return might this yield? Another question that is left off the agenda.
Instead, Nalu insists on reporting verbatim the carefully choreographed remarks of the mine’s corporate and political patrons, without a modicum of critical scrutiny.
It would appear Nalu reserves his criticisms for PNG’s civil society organisations.
If only he approached his journalism with the same enthusiasm for critique. But then he would not be the recipient of corporate largesse, would he.
Sadly, the people along the Fly River now return to dying in silence, until another journalist, with the tenacity to ask hard questions find their way to this neglected region. In the meantime, expect more corporate spin in PNG’s dailies.
We are all impoverished as a result.