By Watut Mahn
For Every large scale development in Papua New Guinea, number of tribal peoples birth right or their social security is permanently lost. It pays of in corporations profit by which most of them are foreign own while the Local peoples lives become worst.
Hidden Valley Gold Mine or Morobe Mining Joint Venture (MMJV) as it is commonly referred to is a 50:50 percent jointly owned by Australia's Newcrest Mining and South African Harmony Gold.
Located in Bulolo, Morobe Province, Mine construction work begun in mid 2005 causing environmental catastrophe and destruction to the Watut River, which is a life source of hundreds of local indigenous communities that lives along the river.
Reuben Mete, a local land owner from Middle Watut has had something to do with it. His father was a community leader and a Lutheran church layman and his work meant most family needs are the opportunity cost for his volunteer work giving young Reuben a better grasp of volunteering.
Reuben and his big brother and two small sister were nurtured in a family where education was valued but was denied due to the accessibility by virtue of the unequal distribution of Government Services to the rural communities. His father urged him to consider a career that can benefited the communities and not to be selfish and greedy.
Being a lone students from Middle Watut to enter Papua New Guinea University of Technology means a lot for the him and so are his community obligation.
Born and raise in the remote Kapin Village in Middle Watut and receive education in Two Mile settlement in Lae has a painful experienced in it, something this young man who easily shed tears when remembering it. Given the painful six hours walk to and from to reach the main Bulolo National Highway to catch PMV to Lae to attend school and access Education from Primary, Secondary and Tertiary is very difficult, but needs personal commitment.
He started his Primary School in 1994 at Haicoast Community School, He than went to Lae Provincial High School in 2000 than to Bugandi Secondary School in 2004.
In 2009, Reuben quit his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture studies at Papua New Guinea University of Technology out of frustration in which his local people rights were being deprived and ignored by the Government and the foreign Mining Companies and with the help of community leaders, he set up the Union of Watut River Communities Association Incorporated, an organization to be the mouthpiece of people living along Watut River with a vision "to make Watut River Communities free of irresponsible development and government activities".
To provide that, Reuben spends much of his time patrolling the Middle and Lower Watut village by village along the river by foot to consult and observe the burden of the communities and selling his idea to organize the communities to have a strong voice against the Hidden Valley Mine and the Papua New Guinea Government Mining and Environment Regulators such as Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) to look into the plight of the local people by which mining has brought to them affecting them socio- economically.
A joined meeting was organized in June 29, 2009 to get all community leaders of Watut River Communities to attend and a petition was drafted. The petition was then presented to the than Minister for Environment and Conservation Hon. Benny Allan, MP on September 11, 2009.
"I began looking for ways to overcome this burden my people are facing, and figured that I need to organize my people somehow, empowered them with factual information, having more discussions trough forums and meetings, and use the peoples power to foster recognition for change." Reuben said.
His achievement includes making the issue a national issue in Papua New Guines by making headlines in media (Print, Audio and Visual) as well as running campaigns using internet, blogs and social media.
Out of their initial petition, the National Executive Council has engaged an Australian base company - Snowy Mountain Engineering Corporation; in 2010 to carry an independent assessment into the watut river system. Out of which, the following were being noted:
* The report confirmed that there were elevated levels of arsenic, cobalt, lead, manganese, iron, mercury and free cyanide in excess of permit requirements released into the river system.
* The Environmental Management Plan (EMP) has not been updated since November 2009. The EMP does not meet the ISO 14001 requirements and has not been approved in accordance with Permit No. WD-L3 (50)
* Waste management is not done in accordance with the Waste Management Plan,
* Hydro- Meteorology Monitoring data reported,
* Poorly implementation of Monitoring, Quality Assurance and Training Procedures,
* High Level sediments discharges,
NB: Major non compliances that Department of Environment and Conservation just accepted.
"The last resort we have is to take the matter to court. The Government and the Mining owners knew that very well but they also knew that we don't have the money to find a good lawyer to represent us", Reuben said.
"The mining effects are now started to shown clear now. The Death of fish along Watut and Markham River, sediments build up, skin diseases, deformed children being born, dieback, river bed rises destroying food gardens and economical and cultural crops. Most of this are new things happening in the communities very recently after the mine." Reuben said.
He also said that they still have faith and hope to see trough that the matter must be address amicably with proper compensation given to the communities whose rights are being deprived as a result of mining in Hidden Valley.
Today, the Union of Watut River Communities are using mobile phones as well as social media and the internet to provided a new platform for its campaign. The Watut River site - www.watutriver.org, and Watut River Cries Facebook page will provides information on communities concerns and social and political matters relating to environmental issues and human rights.
The organization does not have any financial support or assistance but believes will carry its campaigns trough its sacrificial by the dedicated and committed Committees Members.
Union of Watut River Communities Association
Account No. 1005699408
Bank South Pacific.