Hon. John Pundari, Minister for Environment & Conservation, Papua New Guinea
By SONIA KENU
MINISTER for Environment and Conservation John Pundari yesterday broke his silence on the Ok Tedi mining pollution issue, describing it as a “curse” on the Fly River people of Western. He says he plans a visit to all impacted areas along the Ok Tedi and Fly River areas and intends to take along a contingent of international and national media to see for themselves the scale of damage.
“The mine has been operating in the country for some 27 years, and while it has made a significant contribution to the development of our country, it has also brought a curse upon the people of Western in terms of the enormous environmental damage caused to the Fly River system,” Pundari said.
“The Ok Tedi mine has been using the riverine disposal of waste rock and mine tailings and has caused considerable environmental degradation. “This has had a major impact on the lives and livelihood of the Fly River people. “The benefits to the people in the impacted area, in my view, are far less than the impact the operation of the mining has done to the health of the environment. “The damaged environment will remain long after the mine has shut down and continue to affect the lives and health of our people for many generations.”
Pundari said Ok Tedi mine had been operating under the Mining (Ok Tedi Agreement) Act of 1978, followed by various supplementary agreements, which were amended over the years until the recent one in 2001 -- the Mining (Ok Tedi Mine Continuation) Agreement Act 2001.
“These agreements give indemnity against prosecution to BHP, the original developer of the mine,” he said. “Excluding the mine from regulations under the Environment Act has prevented my department from taking an active role in its management.”
Pundari said BHP walked away from the mine and left PNG to deal with the damage caused to the environment, which would remain long after the mine was closed and would become a burden to the government. “Our people of the Fly River and Western have suffered in silence for a very long time in their own God-given land from activities of the mine and the wastes generated in it,” he said. “I, as the minister responsible for the environmental matters, and our government, would not be able to fix the wrong done by these large multi-national corporations to our environment and our people.
“It hurts me greatly to hear the cry of our people in the Fly River area about the irrepressible damage done to the environment and their lives.
“It even hurts me to go and talk about the kind of benefit the Ok Tedi mine has brought in, when their suffering outweighs the benefit the mine brings in.”