February 28, 2024

In River Mafa, chemical pollution disproportionately harms women and girls

Liberia’s quest for a revamped economy after 14 years of civil war launched an economic reconstruction strategy. This included the exploration of its rich mineral deposits including iron ore, gold, and diamonds. Unfortunately, this came with a cost to communities’ health, environmental, social, and political rights.
Consider the recent incident with a multinational corporation, Bea Mountain Mining Corporation (BMMC), whose activities resulted in a chemical spill of cyanide into the Mafa River, the only water source of 10 communities in the region.

This has detrimental impacts including cutting off the basic human right of access to clean and safe water. This lack of water and sanitation is affecting households as women and girls are unable to cook for their families as it is their expected gender role and responsibility in rural Liberia. This results in domestic violence as they are unable to meet their family duties.

Additionally, due to the lack of sanitation, women and girls are forced to engage in exploitative activities to keep clean during their menses, plunging an already vulnerable constituency into menstrual poverty.
The chemical pollution is also causing environmental degradation including the deaths of aquatic species. All of these have a direct correlation with disruptions in reproductive, maternal, child, and adolescent health which will negatively impact the country’s morbidity and mortality rates.

Moreso, income generating activities of women are also disrupted, forcing them to revert to economic dependency on their partners, which often perpetuates the vicious cycles of abuse and poverty. The actions of the BMMC amount to violations of Article 16.2 and Article 25.1, of the Concession Agreement on Environmental Protections and Water Use both seeking reasonable preventative, corrective measures to limit pollution or contamination of streams, water bodies, and dry land surfaces and not to deprive any person of constant and reasonable supply of use of water from the utilized traditional source without replacing it, respectively, not to mention international and national legal instruments.

Human rights organizations, Her Voice Liberia; and the African Platform for Human Rights and Governance, therefore strongly condemn these actions and call on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hold the BMMC and other multinational companies that are engaging in similar exploitative extractive activities to the highest standard of the law.

The group reminds the EPA that national and international laws that Liberia is a party to, on human rights, are in fact legally binding and not suggestive. They, therefore, encourage the agencies to respond to the crisis that pleaded with the offending BMMC to right their wrongs, which is inadequate and a betrayal of the people and the laws of the country.

The group is also calling on all actors and duty bearers to take full, comprehensive, and inclusive responsibility as follows:

  • Undertake practical responses to Gender-based violence and sexual reproductive Health & Rights for women in concession agreements through collaborative efforts.
  • The Executive and Legislative are to review all concession agreements and amend them to become gender sensitive with the objective of compelling concessionaires to set up SRHR and SGBV emergency humanitarian response mechanisms in their concession areas for women during health or environmental crises.
  • Duty bearers to act rightly and restore the rights and dignity of the women in the affected communities by providing relief items including Sexual Reproductive good.

The press statement was read by Executive Director Margaret Nigba on behalf of Her Voice Liberia; and the African Platform for Human Rights and Governance.

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