UNESCO PROTECTION NEEDED

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Mining in the Cockpit Country

Anthony Barrett

“The land, forests, plants and animals in Cockpit Country provide us with clean air to breathe, cooler temperatures, fresh water collected and stored, pollination and pest control for agriculture, medicinal plants and fertile soil in the valleys. The forests of Cockpit Country also help to buffer the impacts of climate change.”Diana McCaulay, Jamaican environmental advocate.

For some time now, a disaster of such calamitous proportions has been threatening that, should it ever come to fruition, future generations will wring their hands in despair and wonder how our generation, yes, our generation, could ever have ever let it occur. Their bane of contention will be the decimation of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country. A Russian aluminum giant, through its subsidiary, Noranda Jamaica, entered into a 26-year mining lease with the Government in 2004 and now fifteen years later, they want their pound of flesh. They are ready to despoil and desecrate the Cockpit Country for economic gain.

McCaulay, a local environmentalist, best described the area and its potential despoliation in these words: “The Cockpit Country is a rugged, forested area of west-central Jamaica, rich in plants, animals, water and history. It is home to about 70,000 people, including the Leeward Maroons of Jamaica. The wet limestone forest of Cockpit Country is Jamaica’s largest remaining natural forest and a refuge for rare native species. Plans to mine for bauxite and quarry for limestone threaten this important area.”

Noranda apparently does not think so. In discussing the impact of a ban on mining in the Cockpits, Noranda’s General Manager, Delroy Dell, issued, in my opinion, a veiled threat when he opined, “The resulting economic impact, which will be felt in the relatively near future, will jeopardize Noranda’s ability to sustain the more than 800 direct and 4000 indirect jobs, and the millions of US dollars in export earnings, taxes and other outgoings, that the company contributes to the Jamaican economy.” 

OBVIOUS NO BRAINERS

At stake is much that all Jamaicans, here and in the Diaspora, should hold dear, the fabric of the country; the sustainability of the ecology over financial threat and economic desperation plus the long-term health of all our citizens. These are obvious no brainers, yet the government and civil society seem content to sit on their hands while paying lip service to this cantankerous issue. As a result, with the clock ticking down towards a grotesque act of vandalism to which Noranda threatens, only the environmental and Rastafarian communities, along with the people domiciled within the immediate vicinity, are agitated and protesting.

We are facing a desecration, the defilement that is the strip mining of one of the last remaining Jamaican forests, the Cockpit Country, which is the largest unspoiled forest in Jamaica. If this travesty is allowed, in a few years from now, the topography of one of the most precious and verdant landscapes in Jamaica, will bear the scar of our folly, inertia and shortsightedness.

It is claimed that the now burning Amazon rainforest is the lungs of the world; likewise, there are Jamaicans who have similarly likened the Cockpit Country. The forest cover and biodiversity that provide the Cockpit Country with its unique context and characteristics, which currently enable farmers in the bread basket and garden parishes of St. Elizabeth and St. Ann, will have been devastated. The yam farmers and related industries in Trelawny will be hard-pressed to maintain their economic independence, given that Trelawny comprises the majority of the Cockpit and where the proposed mining is to be concentrated. Those are incidental consequences.

TOO LATE

However, we must be aware that the strip mining of vast quantities of such lush vegetation will have desecrated it for all time. The damage this would inflict on both the landscape and the broader ecology inclusive of flora, fauna and underground rivers will not be fully known until when it is too late. The government should be resolute in protecting this zone which potentially can be more economically viable than bauxite extraction with its known hazards. Untapped are phytomedicines and the possibility of new drugs which could be far more lucrative economically and a great deal safer for those residing in and around the Cockpit Country.

It is said that the health of people and the health of the planet that we live in are inextricably bound. Destruction of our fragile habitat threatens our access to the most fundamental requisites for human existence, potable water, clean air, safe food and shelter. Within those stated parameters, air pollution poses one of the greatest threats to those fundamentals and human rights of communities abutting the proposed excavation zone.

Let us be clear, bauxite extraction in Jamaica can best be described as open mining which involves substantial clearing and removal of land. The processes of excavating, removal of top soil and vegetation, transportation of bauxite ore, unwanted elements and stockpiling of bauxite cause degradation of air quality due to dust pollution. Fine particles are well documented causes or triggers which lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Dust is a solid particulate matter, and is of great health concern because, while unseen to the naked eyes, it can be inadvertently inhaled deep into the respiratory system, even by those not involved in the mining operation. Then there is the nuisance dust which can be seen. It reduces environmental comfort, contaminates clothes, properties, vegetation and water, and has negative corrosive effects on personal wellbeing and health.

PUBLIC HEALTH

Trees, vehicles, houses and clothes along the route of the trucks transporting bauxite were also contaminated with red dust. It stains even the transportation infrastructure as exemplified by a stretch of road in Faiths Pen in St. Ann, which is plied by bauxite trucks going to and from the quarry. It is tainted dark red. The location of mining activities in relation to human settlement is of great concern to public health and should be treated accordingly.

Again, let me reiterate, there are a number of reasons why bauxite mining in the Cockpit can cause environmental problems which will subsequently spread to negatively impact the health of adjoining communities if the issue is not shelved.

No matter the reassurances, multi-national corporations are driven only by the bottom line, not morality. There ought not to be any Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA). The entire area should be off limits and declared in its entirety as a UNESCO protected area.

Recently, Mr. Dell was quoted in a Jamaican newspaper (Monday September 9, 2019) as saying: ”We are not only a leader in Jamaica with our reclamation activities, but we have been recognized around the world for our reclamation and greenhouse initiatives.” Dell went on to note that a fundamental principle of all aspects of their operations, and a key reason why they have been able to operate in harmony with their communities, is that they not only mine bauxite, but implement environmentally friendly long-term projects that allow residents to derive greater economic and social benefits from their surrounding environment. He further posited that at Noranda, they work hard to ensure the lands they mine are effectively reclaimed for beneficial use by local farmers and residents alike.

While all that sounded well and good, his primary focus was the sustainability of his company’s mining operation when he said that precluding Noranda from mining the reserves granted to it in SML 173, all of which fall outside of the CCPA, will result in Noranda mining lesser quality bauxite at much further haul distances. Obviously, the only tangible cost for him is the company’s profit margin. Peace!

mocobarrett@yahoo.com

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