Posted by José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda
The 12 km road from Thiès to the commune of Cherif Lo (Senegal) is well paved and adorned with little villages on both sides of the road. Quite noticeable as well on approaching Koudiadiène are the grooves and depressions on the asphalt left by the trucks of great tonnage that ply the road daily. The crossroad of he village of Koudidiène is full of large trucks, merchants on the side of the road, women who weave in groups, young people who cross the road from one side to another going and coming to the secondary school and people waiting for the arrival of public transport that takes them to the city of Thiès.
During our visit to Koudiadiène; either to the religious communities, the medical dispensary or private homes of families, we soon discovered a common element: the dust from the mining site of SEPHOS are found on the tables, chairs, shelves, kitchen utensils, windows, books, trees, cars… The Sisters who work in assured us that they clean the dust every day in the morning and that in the evening everything is covered again by a whitish layer of dust from the mines. The glassy eyes of our interlocutors, the continuous clearing of their voices and the irritation of the throat is common for all its inhabitants. Myself, after spending a few hours in the area I begin to feel the throat irritation. “It is the dust of the mine” my guide told me when I requested to go to a pharmacy … This throat sensation would be my lot during the week-long visit in Koudiadiène and immediately it disappeared the same day I left to Dakar.
The representatives of the mining company SEPHOS deny that the dust comes from the mine and rather attributed it to the desert that is more than 100 kilometers away. However, the company fails to explain why other populations in the same region are not invaded by dust.
In the agreement reached between the mining company SEPHOS (of Spanish capital) and the villagers of Koudiadiène, in May 2017, Mr. Nolasco on behalf of the SEPHOS committed to a non-written agreement to a set of commitments with the population of Koudiadiène. This commitment would be based on the obligation of foreign companies to compensate for the damage caused to local populations with part of their profits and not based on a charity grant. Given the alleged toxicity of the dust, such concessions would alleviate the damage caused by the dust from the mine to the people who live in the surrounding areas of the mine.
Among these commitments, there were three specific actions related to the health and welfare of the population. SEPHOS would undertake simple measures that would reduce the emission of dust caused by the extraction of the mineral, such as covering the mineral with tarpaulins during the drying process, installing dust retention screens in the process of screening the mineral, as well as watering and repairing the access road to the mine through which large trucks ply and children walk go to school every day. Mr. Nolasco also committed himself to certain concessions such as donations of medicines to the dispensary of Koudiadiène and letting the use of the ambulance of the mine in case of health emergencies.
The dispensary of Koudiadiène mainly serves the district of Cherif Lo and its doors are open to the people as they come. The dispensary keeps strict records of the cases it encounters. As the graph shows, there has been a progression of cases treated in relation to skin, cough and throat and eye infections in the recent years. This data confirm what we have been able to observe in the village.
Given the claim of the company that the dust that accumulates in the village comes from the desert, AEFJN and REDES decided to take a sample of the dust and analyze it in a laboratory to find out the probable source of the dust. This sample was taken following the precise instructions of a mining engineer who accompanied us on our trip. The dust followed the recommended chain of custody so that its composition was not altered and has been analyzed in the laboratory of a recognized Spanish public university.
Among the first conclusions we have obtained is that the minerals found in the sample are not part of the composition of the sand that is normally found in the desert. On the contrary, the minerals found in the analyzed sample of dust (Sodium, Magnesium, Aluminum, Silicon, Phosphorus, Sulfur, Potassium, Titanium, Chromium or Manganese) are more typical of a mining quarry than of desert sand. Moreover, five of these minerals are found in a high concentration that are considered harmful to health. These are Magnesium, Aluminum, Phosphorus, Potassium and Iron.
If the sample of dust analyzed determines that it is not desert dust; If the dust is found only in the villas that surround the mine; If the dust analysis confirm the harmful concentration of five minerals for human health; If there has been an increasing number of cases registered in the dispensary of Koudiadiène; If those diseases are the same suffered by the workers of the mine … Then we consider that the security measures carried out by the company are clearly insufficient. That the mining activity is causing the emission of dust that affects the people of Koudiadiène and that dust is harmful to health.
The compensatory measures for local communities affected by mining companies in Africa cannot be left to the good will of the companies. Compensations must obey mandatory measures that are effective, transparent and verifiable by civil society. Otherwise the compensations will be lost or will be mere gestures of beneficence, or truncated by corruption. The EU cannot remain passive by the behavior of its companies and must demand from them the same ethical and legal behavior when they operate abroad.
The case of Koudiadiène is the case of a small company that operates a non-relevant mineral in a region of an African country. It is a small but paradigmatic example of the behavior of European companies operating in developing countries, especially in Africa. The EU must commit itself to the sustainability of the planet and look for long-term solutions that do not only look for their economic benefits but also prioritize the sustainability of natural resources. The EU has the obligation to be more demanding in its Transparency Directives, in the respect of human rights and, of course, to seriously commit itself to the initiative of the binding treaty of United Nations Business and Human Rights.