FREETOWN, August 6 (Reuters) – At the foot of a slag heap some 40 meters high, Adi Kalie Bangura showed the black welts that dot his arms and legs that he says are the result of drinking and bathing in water contaminated by Sierra Leone’s largest diamond mine.
The water “makes us get headaches and feel sick in our stomachs,” said Bangura, a traditional healer and community elder in Koidu, the largest city in the West African country’s diamond-rich Kono district. The aluminium roof of the mud brick house he shares with a dozen family members is pockmarked by holes he says are the result of rocks loosened by years of blasting by the mine.
Bangura’s claims are part of those made by a group of Koidu residents in a lawsuit against diamond mining firm Octea Limited and related companies, highlighting how communities in developing countries are becoming increasingly emboldened to use courts to pursue grievances against mining firms.
The group alleges Octea poisoned the water, destroyed houses and failed to relocate hundreds of households away from the blasting. According to a 2003 mining-license agreement, the Octea subsidiary that operates the mine Koidu Limited said it would relocate all households within 500 meters of the mine.
The complaint, filed in Sierra Leone’s High Court in March, claims $288 million in damages for “degradation or destruction of land, destruction of homes and loss of livelihoods and …dumping of toxic mine waste,” among other things. On July 22, a judge ruled the case was “adjourned for judicial recess” until the end of September.