Mining is usually considered a big economic opportunity for any community, but the reality is that local communities usually bear the costs of mining in the form of environmental damage and pollution, loss of traditional livelihoods, long term economic problems and deteriorating public health. The benefits of the mine usually go to investors overseas and the central government, with little of the profit passed back to the community.
Many mining boom towns swell with job seekers and their families, and nearby farmers displaced by the mine. They converge on towns and cities, increasing demand for social services and in many cases changing the character of a place. Increased alcoholism, prostitution, drug use, and other crime can increase with the influx of job seekers. Mining can provoke fundamental changes to local governance: While mining companies may fund social programs and provide infrastructure such as roads and schools, this may have the unintended consequence of displacing local government and decision-making structures. And when the minerals are gone and the mining stops, mining communities can become financially and politically unstable as they are forced to absorb the costs of cleaning up environmental damage.
Residents of Choropampa, Peru still suffer the effects of a mercury spill in 2000. Credit: Ernesto Cabellos/Guarango Cine y Video
Loss of Traditional Ways of Living
Large, open-pit mines can displace farmers and other groups, including indigenous peoples, from their ancestral lands, frequently without enough compensation to buy land elsewhere. Those that hang on frequently experience a loss of revenue due to the environmental damage to the resources on which they rely for agriculture, such as water.
Large-scale open-pit mining has disrupted artisanal mining and other traditional livelihoods in Ghana. Credit: Penny Tweedie/Oxfam
Water and air pollution create long-term public health problems for some mining communities, sometimes forcing families to spend significant amounts of their income treating chronic asthma, skin diseases, lead poisoning, and other ailments related to the mine's impacts. Industrial accidents involving spilled chemicals near towns can be devastating for communities, such as Cajamarca.
For more information:
Endangered Communities. A section from Dirty Metals: Mining, Communities, and the Environment. (592KB)