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Conserving indigenous forests in Liberia
Mining in Liberia – an environmental and social challenge
ArcelorMittal, the world’s leading steel company, is planning to start iron ore mining operations in Liberia. Liberia has one of the richest seams of iron ore in Africa. However, some of the most accessible seams of ore are in the remote Nimba mountain range, which is one of the few remaining West African wet-zone forests, and home to many unique species and ecosystems. These forests are an important habitat for the smaller mammals that are an integral part of the diet for local people.
Business impacts on the ecosystems can be profound if they are not managed with extreme care. ArcelorMittal’s challenge, therefore, is to establish ore extracting operations without destroying these special habitats or fragile local livelihoods.
Initial steps: knowing the existing ecosystems and working with stakeholders
The first step was to build a solid basis for decisionmaking, which meant carrying out a large-scale, year-long ecological study in both the wet and dry seasons. Nothing like this had been possible during the civil war, so there was very little knowledge about local biodiversity. ArcelorMittal assembled a large team of specialists and partners from Liberia and other neighboring countries, including the Liberian Forestry Development Authority, the NGOs Conservation International and Fauna and Flora International, and the Côte d’Ivoire-based Afrique Nature, to study the current state of biodiversity in the region.
First encouraging outcomes
The ecological study proved that the forests close to the proposed mine sites did indeed show high levels of biodiversity. For example, the study identified 742 species of butterflies and moths in the forests, but also revealed that these were under threat from long-term degradation and decline, due to logging, agriculture and previous mining operations. ArcelorMittal had the opportunity not only to mitigate damage from mining, but to start reversing that trend.
One of the positive consequences of the work carried out has been the establishment of an energetic local stakeholder group, which brings together all the different NGOs working in the area. It meets every two months and develops shared plans for the management of the forest, based on sustainable community activities. The group has also helped the government agencies to focus their efforts, and make conservation their priority, rather than commercial logging.
Initial discussions and planning for rehabilitation and protection work began in 2009 and are expected to last until the end of 2010. Implementation will take approximately 15 years of low level input, starting from 2011.
ArcelorMittal will work to mitigate its potential impacts on surrounding ecosystems, and consequently people’s livelihoods, at every stage of the development project, leveraging the multi-stakeholder consultation in which it is deeply involved.
These actions towards biodiversity conservation should help the company to secure its license to operate among government authorities, and also local communities, who rely on the existing ecosystems.