Communities living around Qit Madagascar Minerals (QMM) mine, near Fort Dauphin in the Anosy region of southeastern Madagascar, have been making allegations about the company’s regular discharge of radioactive wastewater into local water sources on which about 15,000 people are dependent. The Rio Tinto subsidiary, which produces ilmenite – a source of titanium dioxide used as a white pigment in products including paper and paint – denies the charge.
Most investigations to-date into the water quality in the water bodies surrounding the mine have either been commissioned by entities who may have personal interests in the company, or the samples sent to laboratories were possibly biased as they were collected by the company itself, according to a local One Thred News source. Moreover, the zone of activity of the company is reportedly cordoned off by QMM. However, an independent investigation commissioned by Andrew Lees Trust, and supported by Publish What You Pay, revealed levels of uranium 50 times higher than WHO’s guidelines for safe drinking water, and levels of lead, 40 times higher.
The Anosy region is one of the poorest regions of Madagascar, with 91 percent of the population living in poverty, and 80 percent dependent on their natural resources for survival.
Marie Angèle is from Evatraha village near Fort Dauphin. She has lived there all her life. She has seven children and her husband is deceased. In the run-up to Africa Industrialisation Day on 20 November, Marie shares her story about how her community has been affected by mining activities.
When my husband was still here, we had a small epi-bar [an establishment that is both a grocery store and bar]. We sold alcohol, tea and coffee. I was happy then because business was good. We had enough money to support ourselves, and I was never bored at the epi-bar. We closed the epi-bar when he died. Since then, I’ve spent my days weaving, planting and fishing.
My children and the men of the village fish with a line or a net. The women and I practice manandrohotry [a fishing technique practised only by women, using a large mosquito net to catch fish, crab, shrimp, etc.] at the river mouth. We also weave mahampy [a locally sourced reed that grows in the nearby wetlands].
In the past, we also sold seafood from the fishery and our handmade products in our village, but people don’t have as much money as they used to. To make sales now, we would have to walk along the coast to Fort Dauphin, about four hours away, with our products, and then walk another four hours back.
A harder life since ilmenite mining
When Qit Madagascar Minerals (QMM) wasn’t here, we lived comfortably, and everything went smoothly. We had unlimited access to mahampy [a locally sourced reed that grows in the nearby wetlands] from the river. However, since they settled, access to the mahampy is very much controlled by them, as if it is their private property. This is a major problem as we women earn money from weaving the mahampy.
We used to bathe in the river, and also used the water for cooking, washing, and irrigation. After seeing dead carcasses of fish and other dead aquatic animals on the river bank, we became afraid. We don’t dare to use the water from the river anymore. Majority of the dogs in the village died after eating the dead fish. We also keep a close eye on our children and ask them to stay away from the river, because people who were swimming there started to get itchy skin.
I have a distant cousin whom I consider my brother. He has been fishing with a net at the river since childhood. When the dead fish phenomenon arose, he started to have large pimples and blisters throughout his body and suffered from unbearable itching. He had to be treated in Fort Dauphin, because we don’t have adequate hospitals here. The doctors aren’t familiar with the disease, and despite the many treatments they’ve advised, my cousin has not been cured for four months.
We can only fish in the sea now, offshore, but the rough nature of the Indian Ocean and increased cyclones due to climate change makes it difficult to get fish to sell. We often end up sharing the fish or trading it amongst ourselves. We are hungry. We mainly grow cassava, potatoes, and rice, but the crops are insufficient for the nutritional needs of the entire village. We have also noticed that our farm land isn’t very fertile anymore; we have no idea why, and have had to adapt once again.
Repairing the damage
I don’t know what QMM could do to repair the damage already done. At the very least, they should give us the money they promised us as compensation. It would help a lot of us to buy food. They gave us some provisions, including rice and dry grains, but the provisions didn’t even last one month.
Madagascar receives a lot of aid from abroad, for victims of cyclones and famines, but why not Evatrah? Don’t we deserve it? All we would like is to be able to eat so that we have strength for our work and don’t sleep on an empty stomach. The polluted river, the source of our daily life, has worsened our living conditions.