Gold is an extremely precious metal. Everyone knows it. It’s used everyday, from appliances such as phones and laptops, to jewellery and bracelets. Nearly as unreactive is copper, used in wiring. Both of these metals can be found in the easternmost islands and tropical rainforests of Indonesia, in New Guinea.
Freeport-McMoRan Mining Company, one of the worlds largest producers of copper and gold, mines an area of 3.6 million hectares in this part of Indonesia. It owns 76.6% of Grasberg, Papua province. The effects of mining in these areas have very severe consequences on the land and on the indigenous people.
Due to the golds proximity to the surface, companies use a method known as open-pit mining to dig into the ground. This means that they first have to destroy the rainforests that cover the land. Deforestation leads to loss of habitat for many animals, and loss of biodiversity we can’t begin to imagine. Once the land has been cleared, these companies begin to dig into the ground. The pollution caused by this leads to further harm to wildlife, in particular, the saltwater crocodile, native to these areas, and tortoises. 285,000 tonnes of untreated mining waste is dumped into the river Aghawaghon every day. If my maths is correct, that’s about 285,000,000 bottles of coke. Still quite hard to wrap your mind around, isn’t it. Consider that this waste is poisoning the fish and the animals which drink from this river. It kills plants and more importantly, it affects the indigenous people who use this water everyday, who eat the fish from this river and who drink it to survive.
If that’s not enough to make you question these companies and their effects on these lands, then ask yourself who works in these mines? Who slaves away, working for less than US$2 for every 10 hour day? Exploitation of local people is a problem that needs to be solved. Companies take advantage of the indigenous people and use them as cheap labour.
So next time you buy a laptop or a new necklace, stop for a moment and consider where it’s come from.
Grasberg Mine, West Papua: