Mining in the Pacific: a blessing and a curse – by Lyanne Togiba and Ben Dohery (The Guardian – June 6, 2021)

Mining is big business in the Pacific. Guardian analysis of trade data can reveal that each year nearly 11m tonnes of fuel and oil (the equivalent of 1100 Eiffel towers) are extracted from the region, 2m tonnes of copper, nickel, manganese and aluminium are mined, and gold worth US$2.6bn is quarried.

But despite the minerals and wealth pulled from the Pacific’s mountains, valleys, oceans and rivers, communities often have little to show for it.

In Solomon Islands, a bauxite mine on Rennell Island has scarred a once-pristine landscape and been the cause of environmental disasters – spills of oil and bauxite into the island’s fishing grounds – while paying zero royalties to the government.

Nauru once had one of the highest per capita incomes in the world because of a booming phosphate mining industry in the 1970s and 80s. But the mismanagement of hundreds of millions in royalties caused the near-collapse of the country’s economy and fuelled a series of financial crises. Nearly 80% of the island’s small landmass is unliveable, having been stripmined by foreign multinationals.

On Kiribati’s Banaba, mining has left the atoll with no reliable supply of drinking water. And, in New Caledonia, angst over nickel mining has undermined political stability.

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