In early February, in yet another blow to Haitian civil society, the World Bank refused to hear a complaint filed by the Justice Mining Collective on the revival of the mining sector in Haiti.
According to the World Bank, Haiti’s mining sector is constrained by “outdated legal framework, weak institutional capacity and widespread lack of information” about the sector among politicians and the public alike. Meanwhile, activists and community members that live in mining zones have consistently voiced complaints about the effects of mining, ranging from exploitation to environmental degradation.
The World Bank’s refusal to address these very real concerns about the environmental impacts of mining is a failure to acknowledge that Haiti is on the short list of countries that will be most affected by climate change.
At Haiti’s first Mining Forum, held in 2013, experts tried to convince Haiti’s government of all the positive developments that would come from developing the country’s mining sector. And they succeeded — at the end of the forum, then-Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe was certain that the mining sector was Haiti’s ticket out of abject poverty.
Mining, of course, can be lucrative for a select few — but the environmental damage would have a profound effect on Haiti’s environment.
In 2014, risk consultancy firm Maplecroft released its annual Climate Change Vulnerability Risk Index, which ranked Haiti at number 6 and classified the situation facing the country as “extreme.” With its location in the Caribbean making it susceptible to tropical storms, extreme deforestation, overfishing, frequent droughts and other natural disasters, it’s no surprise that Haiti falls near the top of the list. Weak infrastructure, dilapidated hospitals and crumbling roads only exacerbate the problem, and the current political crisis leaves Haiti vulnerable to political unrest.
Economic benefits aside, mining comes at a great environmental cost. Some of the impacts include water pollution, loss of biodiversity and soil contamination. The chemicals used in the mining process also pose a great public health risk. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of Haiti knows why the country could not possibly sustain any more public health risks or contaminated water.
For an understanding of what gold mining does to a country’s water supply, look no further than El Salvador. After a mining company poisoned the San Sebastián River, members of the community that gets its water from the river are now suffering from illnesses like kidney failure.
Salvadorans are currently fighting to prevent the World Bank from handing over another gold mine to another multinational mining company, in a desperate effort to keep the country’s largest river, the Lempa River, from ending up like the San Sebastián.
The World Bank’s treatment of Haitians is similar to that of the United Nations and the cholera lawsuit; both have long-term impacts on the livelihoods of Haitians, a fact that appears unimportant to these international entities. Shrugging off the environmental concerns of an extremely climate-vulnerable nation, though, is tantamount to willingly destroying lives.