Matthew G. Allen is a Professor of Development Studies at The University of the South Pacific.
This week, 156 people from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, in Papua New Guinea, petitioned the Australian government to investigate Rio Tinto over a copper mine that devastated their homeland.
In 1988, disputes around the notorious Panguna mine sparked a lengthy civil war in Bougainville, leading to the deaths of up to 20,000 people. The war is long over and the mine has been closed for 30 years, but its brutal legacy continues.
When I conducted research in Bougainville in 2015, I estimated the deposit of the mine’s waste rock (tailings) downstream from the mine to be at least a kilometre wide at its greatest point. Local residents informed me it was tens of metres deep in places.
I spent several nights in a large two-story house built entirely from a single tree dragged out of the tailings — dragged upright, with a tractor.
Every new rainfall brought more tailings downstream and changed the course of the waterways, making life especially challenging for the hundreds of people who eke out a precarious existence panning the tailings for remnants of gold.
For the rest of this article: https://theconversation.com/a-brutal-war-and-rivers-poisoned-with-every-rainfall-how-one-mine-destroyed-an-island-147092