By Lisa Zengarini
Among the many issues brought up by Pope Francis in his recent Video Message to the Fourth World Meeting of Popular Movements, was the damage caused by mining activities to environment and the livelihoods of many poor communities across the world.
His call on extractive industries “to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas and to stop poisoning food and people” resounded strongly in a youth panel of discussion hosted on 20 October by Papuan Catholic radio station “NBC – Tribe FM”.
Five students from St Joseph’s International Catholic College of Port Moresby were invited to talk about the “Impacts of the Extraction Industries” on the weekly discussion programme “Chat Room”.
The talk focused on various aspects of the topic that dwelled on the background information of the extractive industry; its impact in developing economies and improving livelihoods; comparison of benefits and disadvantages the industry possesses; mention of local and international case studies; the reality of the industry’s operations in Papua New Guinea; the harm caused by the extractive industry and the essential role youth play in creating awareness, reducing adverse effects and boosting social change.
Irreversible damage to the environment and people
While acknowledging the positive impact of the extractive industry on Papuan economy and society at large, the high-school students pointed out that it has also left serious and irreversible damages to the environment and people.
They mentioned loss of environmental biodiversity, deforestation, erosion, alteration of soil profiles, contamination of local streams and wetlands, as well as the displacement of indigenous landowners. A classic example in this respect, they noted, is Australia, which was taken over by Europeans who had the locals forcefully and harshly driven out from their homeland into the margins of society.
Political and economic unrest
Participants also remarked that if the extractive industry is not managed carefully it can cause long-term political and economic unrest which further impacts on the lives of people.
As an example of mismanagement one student cited the 10-year Bougainville Conflict which was triggered by tensions between indigenous landowners and Papuan miners in the Panguna Copper Mine. The conflict, which ended in 1998, caused thousands of civilian casualties.
Youth called to play a central role in boosting change
Bringing their discussion to a close, participants emphasized the essential role youth are called to play in creating awareness and boosting change.
They said the younger generations and the general public should be informed and need to better understand the impacts of the extractive industry so they can speak up for people’s rights.
The Catholic students also called on the Papuan government to be more transparent and accountable in managing national resources ensuring they benefit local communities.