Zambia Conference Addresses ‘Resource Curse’

By Kim Pozniak,

It’s been called the “Resource Curse,” the fact that many countries rich in natural resources also have high and growing levels of poverty, extreme income inequalities, greater risk of conflict, and high levels of corruption.

Too often, government revenues from resource extraction—oil, gas, mining and logging—are not used to support basic social services such as health, nutrition and education. They certainly don’t find their way into investments that benefit the poor as often as they should. Worse yet, profits from extractives too often fuel terrible violence in some countries. At the same time, people living near extractive operations often suffer from degradation of the environment and their own health, conflict, unjust labor practices, displacement from their land and interrupted livelihoods.

To address such issues, CRS and the U.K.-based Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) sponsored an extractive industries conference in the southern African country of Zambia this month. More than 130 people representing faith-based, legal and human rights and environmental organizations from 15 countries came together in Lusaka for the conference entitled “Connecting Resources, Connecting People.”

The purpose was for participants to develop skills to negotiate with extractives companies and to direct advocacy towards governments. Participants also built alliances with other organizations working on issues around extractives.

“We came together to create new and stronger networks and linkages among people and groups working on extractive industry issues in southern Africa and other parts of Africa,” says Amy Erickson, CRS’ regional technical advisor for peacebuilding. “And the participants all want to continue to build their skills in monitoring, negotiation, and advocacy.”

The representatives also discussed economic, social and environmental impacts on people working in or living near mines and oil and gas wells and pipelines.

“CRS partners from several countries are working with communities, companies and other stakeholders to support people who have been displaced by mining operations,” explains Rees Warne, CRS’ senior technical advisor for resource governance. “They are working to help improve the compensation that companies provide to people who have been uprooted from their homes, fields, and communities.”

In Malawi, for example, CRS is supporting a project with the Catholic Commissions for Justice and Peace in two Malawian dioceses that have helped form local community action groups that raise awareness about mining issues and communicate concerns to local government so that they get redressed.

In Madagascar, CRS has helped its partners to set up networks of people from communities, local governments, NGOs and mining companies. These networks meet regularly to review the complaints of community members about the mining companies operating nearby. They make recommendations on what should be done to resolve the problems, and jointly monitor what the companies and local governments do in response.

“The partners we are working with are extremely dedicated. They have been working creatively to improve the impacts of extractive industries and to help them fulfill the promise of fueling development in their countries,” Warne says. “CRS was one of the first international development organizations to support local work on extractive industry issues and their social, environmental and economic impacts. For CRS staff, the conference reinforced the importance of what we are doing and of what we are helping local people to do.”

Kim Pozniak is CRS’ communications officer for Africa. She is based in Baltimore, Maryland.

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