Malawi Announces New Mining Law, Bringing Hope to Communities

By Nethani Palmani | Feb 21, 2017 10:30 AM EST

Advocates say that the new mining bill will enhance protection of state resources by empowering the public and the media to legally force government officials to release informed deemed public interest, according to The Nation.(Photo : Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images)

Malawi's President Peter Mutharika announced a new law that enables people to request and access vital information pertaining mining operations for the communities. He signed Access to Information (ATI) Bill last week, taking a positive step to promote transparency in mining and resource extraction.

Malawi's civil society organizations have urged the government to bring in such law for many years, considering the long history of struggle among Malawians due to mining activities. In fact, Human Rights Watch released a report last September, showing how Malawian communities have been left in the dark about the risks mining activities pose to their daily lives.

For the longest time, Malawi's government has failed to protect the rights and livelihoods of people living in nascent mining communities. Communities living near coal and uranium mining operations face serious problems with water, food, and housing, and are left in the dark about health and other risks from mining.

Rosbelle, a mother of seven children, told Human Rights Watch several years ago that the Eland Coal Mining company started mining coal near her village in rural northern Malawi. The company promised villagers a new school and jobs, giving Rosbelle high hopes for her children's future.

However, the Norwegian-owned subsidiary company ended its operations and abandoned the mine in 2015, leaving behind piles of coal and open mining pits filled with water with no rehabilitation of the mine site. Rosbelle revealed that the authorities have never told her community group about the dangers of mining and whether the water from the local river and boreholes is safe to drink.

Authorities believe that the signing of the ATI law will make a meaningful difference for communities in Malawi, and will go a long way in promoting the accountability of mining operations, says The Nation. The new mining law, if carried out effectively, could be a solution to neglected communities like Rosbelle's.

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