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ABN AMRO: Keeping track of Lafayette?

Posted by LA ARGENTINIDAD ...AL PALO en diciembre 16, 2006

Rapu Rapu Island, PHILIPPINES — As the Philippines suffers from the wrath of typhoons Durian and Utor, we ask ABN AMRO again to reconsider their investment in a mine that is an ongoing threat to the people and marine life of Rapu Rapu Island.

The Dutch bank finally responded to our letter sent earlier this year, and those of thousands of Ocean Defenders, questioning their investment in Lafayette Mine in the Philippines.  Their answer merely promised to keep track of environmental issues on the ground.  That’s not the only changes they’re tracking – their letter was a reworking of one they‘d written to us on another issue (they’d left track changes on – a dead giveaway) which goes to show just how empty their response is.  However since then the bank has agreed to talk to us seriously about the issues.

«Typhoon alley»

On November 29, Super Typhoon Durian lashed out its fury on the Bicol Region, one of the stops of the Esperanza during the Philippine leg of the Defending our Oceans expedition. The record rainfall levels caused lahar deposited on the slopes of Mt. Mayon from this year’s eruption to flow, burying surrounding communities in mud. The death toll has surpassed 670 with more than 700 still missing as of December 9, 2006.

Rapu Rapu Island, the location of  the Lafayette mine, was not spared by Typhoon Durian. A landslide was reported in Barangay Malobago killing 11 people. Lafayette was quick to deny that the mine had anything to do with the landslide, although they have cleared land in the area which might have afforded some protection.  However, the company did report some damage to their pier and some other facilities and are ceasing operations for four to six weeks.

Climate change and safety

The cause of the landslide is debatable but the confluence of factors including extreme weather events brought about by climate change will increase the likelihood of such incidents.

The root problem is that the mine is situated on an exposed slope of a fragile tropical island surrounded by vulnerable coral reefs and rich fishing grounds on which ten thousands of fisherfolk rely for their livelihood, right in the middle of a typhoon path and in an earthquake-prone area of a volcanic peninsula.

Obviously, it can never be operated in a safe way — at the end of the day, there is no way to mitigate against all the possible accidents that can and already have taken place. With climate change, things are bound to get worse, and Lafayette will not have engineering control of what is going to happen.

Typhoons and tailings

Traditionally in the Philippines during heavy rain, tailings dams (where waste from the mine is stored) are opened up and the toxic materials and sludge are washed down the drainage system. This is both a safety measure to try to prevent the collapse of dams under the weight of too much water and, especially for established mines, a  way of releasing waste into the environment,  emptying the dam for future use so extending its lifespan at minimal cost. There is no evidence this occurred during this particular typhoon, but it does raise questions as to what the future impact of such typhoons could be.

Keeping up the pressure

Together with our friends at the Mineral Policy Institute (MPI) and BankTrack we have replied to ABN AMRO’s letter.

To their credit, ABN AMRO has already responded with a conference call and are keen to engage in further discussions.

We will continue working with MPI, BankTrack and other NGOs to exert pressure on Lafayette’s banking investors (ABN-AMRO, ANZ and Standard Chartered) for them to reconsider their investments in the Rapu Rapu mine.

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