The Whirled Bank Group


One of the major reasons for the Bank's poor record in these matters is the inadequacy of its own internal mining guidelines.


One of the most infamous examples was the political risk insurance provided to Freeport McMoRan of New Orleans, USA, for the copper and gold mine on the western half of the island of New Guinea in the South Pacific, (Irian Jaya, Indonesia), that dumps 120,000 tonnes of toxic mining waste into the local rivers in New Guinea which has killed over 30 square kilometers of lowland forest.

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The Bank also insured the Omai gold mine in Guyana, located some 160 kilometers from the north-eastern Atlantic coast of South America. The mining company had a major failure of its tailings system in 1995 causing some 3.2 billion liters of cyanide-laced waste to flow into a tributary of the Essequibo River, the main water source in the country, over a period of five days. Life in the river was essentially killed off and the mine was subsequently forced to close.

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Today the World Bank continues to fund problem projects. It provides private sector loans as well as political risk insurance to the Newmont gold mine in northern Peru, the largest gold mine in South America, which has been sued by local landholders for inadequate compensation for land and has extremely poor relations with local communities.

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The Bank also provides political risk insurance for a new gold mine on Papua New Guinea's Lihir island which plans to dispose 4,600 tonnes of its toxic waste directly into the ocean every single hour at a spot just 1.5 kilometers from shore, a practice that has not been permitted in North America for years.

The Lihir mine has been condemned by groups from Papua New Guinea as well as groups in Australia, Switzerland and the United States.

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The Bank has also considered several other controversial projects such as providing political risk insurance for a planned gold mine on 17,000 hectares of land at Gros Rosebel in eastern Suriname that will be operated by the companies that were responsible for the Omai disaster in Guyana. Traditional Maroon communities in the village of Nieuw Koffiekamp have been protesting against this proposal for years because it would force them off their lands.

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The Bank has also considered providing a multimillion dollar for the operators of the world's largest rutile (titanium dioxide ore) mine in Sierra Leone which has a history of using mercenaries to crush local opposition. The loan proposal has been condemned by Friends of the Earth US which says that the company has moved more 5300 people for the mine, 6,400 acres of land have been flooded and dumps 7.4 million tonnes of mining waste in the local region every month.

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Some of these problems can be traced back to the fact that the World Bank has extremely inadequate mining guidelines, based on a weak interpretation of the performance of technologies that are two decades old instead of taking into account the threat to human beings let alone other species and ecosystems.

For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) standard for arsenic levels in drinking water are 100 times stricter than the World Bank guideline. The current United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) human health standards on mercury contamination are14 times more strict than the World Bank, the US EPA standards for lead are 12 times stricter, and the US EPA standards for cadmium are 10 times stricter.

These Bank guidelines only cover nine residual heavy metals and do not include several metals often found in ore bodies (i.e. aluminum, antimony, barium, beryllium, manganese, molybdenum, radium, selenium, silver, thallium, uranium and vanadium), most of which are regulated in the United States.

Nor are there any limits for dissolved ammonia, chloride, fluoride, nitrate, nitrite or sulphate, gross alpha and beta radioactivity.

The World Bank guidelines on tailings and waste rock disposal are extremely general considering that tailings and waste rock comprise the largest volume of mining waste and are the greatest source of acid mine drainage (AMD).

Given also that AMD can begin years after a mine is shut down and then continue for thousands of years, this shortcoming could create "perpetual pollution machines."

The World Bank has no guidelines on safety requirement for tailings dams, liners for waste ponds, heap leach piles or tailings impoundments which are used to contain toxic chemicals like cyanide despite the fact that these chemicals leak regularly out of the best designed systems. Nor does the World Bank does not prohibit projects from disposing of tailings in local rivers or in marine systems.

Both the United States and Canada prohibit riverine tailings disposal and severely restrict marine disposal -- no mine has qualified for such practices since these regulations took effect.

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