Bauxite mining and Chinese dam push Guinea’s chimpanzees to the brink

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Human Rights Watch has accused SMB’s trucks of spreading red dust that kills off agriculture and coats trees and villages in dust, though the company has since implemented a watering system on roads to curb this. Bouzigues says mining has expanded so quickly in Boké that the environmental impacts are constantly shifting, requiring updated studies every couple of years. He says SMB promoted a chimpanzee center and conducted regular training for employees on how to limit damage to their habitat on mining sites, though the company has yet to back the Moyen-Bafing project.

Deforestation and noise from dynamiting are inevitable processes in bauxite mining, however, and have driven chimpanzees from the small pockets of land where they were still living in Boké prefecture.

No one really knows the exact numbers of endangered species present on mining sites, frustrating local environmentalists. “What we don’t have today is follow-up from the environment ministry to calculate how many chimpanzees there were when mining activities began and how many there are now,” says Amadou Bah, executive director of Guinean campaign group Action Mines. Bah says government inaction has failed Guinea’s chimpanzees, but also calls on mining companies to account for their own role in the problem. “The mining companies must compile an inventory of the species in the concessions, including chimpanzees,” he says. “These animals help plant life to regenerate and contribute significantly to the protection of the environment.

“The clients of mining companies in Guinea should be concerned about this,” Bah adds. “I don’t have a lot of faith in the Chinese clients who are the biggest buyers of Guinean bauxite, but CBG sells to the United States, Spain and Germany, Ukraine and France.”

Western Chimpanzees, pictured here at the Tacugama Chimp Sanctuary in  Sierra Leone, have suffered a massive decline in population since the 1990s. Photo by BigMikeSndTech via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Park and dam

When mining firms CBG and GAC agreed to fund Moyen-Bafing National Park, the WCF’s president, Christophe Boesch, celebrated the “important move by the Government of Guinea” that would “signal the start of specific measures to sustainably protect the environment in the region for the good of the chimpanzees.”

Buried at the end of a WCF assessment of the park, however, was the mention of the Koukoutamba hydroelectric dam, a project that will provide three-quarters of its energy to neighboring countries through the Senegal River Basin Development Organization (OMVS in its French acronym), a regional body that aims to maximize use of the Senegal River for all the countries along its length: Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal.

The planned 294-megawatt dam is located right in the center of Moyen-Bafing, and flooding and other impacts could kill as many as 1,500 chimpanzees, according to the WCF, which put the park’s total chimpanzee population at between 3,533 and 5,393 individuals.

A previous OMVS project on the Senegal River, the Manantali dam in Mali, had “myriad negative environmental and social impacts” following its completion in 1988, according to a separate WCF report. These included permanent damage to agriculture, fishing and public health, which were “underestimated by the OMVS at the time.”

Another 1,300 of Moyen-Bafing’s chimps are threatened by a mine owned by the Iranian state-backed Société de Bauxite Dabola-Tougué (SBDT) in the southern section of the sanctuary. In 2015, SBDT renewed a 25-year contract with the Guinean government to reactivate the long moribund project, which has still yet to begin in earnest.

Villagers walk miles to access their strip of remaining farmland in an area bought up by Emirati company Guinea Alumina Corporation (GAC). Image by Jennifer O’Mahony for Mongabay.

The dam will be built by Sinohydro, a Chinese state-owned company that has left behind a string of problematic barrage projects in Asia and Africa. The firm was once blacklisted by the African Development Bank for fraudulent practices relating to a tender process in Uganda, and is currently facing criticism for its involvement in a hydropower project in Indonesia that threatens the only known habitat of another great ape, the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis).

Guinean President Condé congratulated Sinohydro at the signing of a memorandum of understanding for the Koukoutamba dam project in February, urging it to begin work immediately.

After funding studies into hydropower in Guinea, the World Bank decided not to back the dam due to risks to endangered species and the potential resettlement of 8,700 people. “The World Bank is not financing and never planned to finance the proposed Koukoutamba dam nor does it provide finance for hydropower dam construction in Guinea generally,” a spokesperson told Mongabay.

Tejan-Cole of Mighty Earth visited the Koukoutamba area earlier this year and says he’s determined to stop the dam project moving ahead in its current form. “We’re saying: ‘look at other alternatives, look at solar, look at other ways that are environmentally friendly,’” he says. “If you have to build a dam, build a much smaller dam that will not cause so much damage to the environment.” His organization is pressuring the Chinese government, which will host the U.N. Biodiversity Conference in 2020 and has committed to improving its environmental record.

“I cannot see any way a dam of this magnitude is not going to have any impact on the park and on the environment and on the chimps. I think it’s going to have a really devastating impact,” he says.

This story first appeared on Mongabay

South Africa Today – Environment



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