BUTIHINDA – Here in the northeastern mining region of Burundi, some green is starting to grow again. Having caused rampant deforestation and drought, mining companies are from now on required to plant trees in the areas they exploit.
Along the dusty road leading to Kamaramagambo, we can see several rocky slopes that for the first time in memory now have patches of green on them. Here and there, Eucalyptus trees are bringing back some green to the devastated mining zones.
According to some locals, the rains that had become rare events, have begun occurring more and more often. “Currently, all the associations that exploit the mines and the locals are organizing together in order to protect the environment by setting up plantings. Every season there are new green areas coming up,” says an official of a local mining association who asked to remain anonymous.
The planting program was launched five years ago, after some environmental officials raised the alarm. But only now are the results visible.
“In our town, every Saturday, local works are busy weeding the newly growing trees. All the hills which were overexploited are now covered with green”, assures the administrator of Butihinda, a municipality of the Muyinga province.
The price of being mineral-rich
The region of Butihinda is overflowing with minerals that have long been extracted by individuals miners and private companies. In the past, nobody bothered to respect the forests or the lands around the quarries.
“They used to work day and night without taking into account any environmental aspect!” remembers Mertus Maherezo, a senior official at the Environment Ministry.
According to 56-year-old Séraphine Mukamakare of Kamaramagambo: “the price of this uncontrolled exploitation fell on us… For the last 15 years, we have seen our region dry out."
The Burundi government is supposed to monitor the allocation of exploitation certificates, which lay out the norms that every organization or individual must follow, including a range of environmental safeguards.
But too often the norms were overlooked, often simply because of ignorance of the environmental impact. The government's response was to suspend exploitation until proper enforcement was applied.
“The aim of this measure is to allow mining while preserving the biodiversity in accordance with the international texts that Burundi has ratified," says an official at the Ministry of Energy and Mining. "Too many miners have no knowledge of these texts. But the respect of the environment is a condition for any work that has be done. Otherwise, imagine what the result would be in 20 years by continuing this way: a real desert!”
Today, the obligation to plant green spaces divides the miners. For some, it is a way for the current government to favor certain mining companies. Others welcome the measures as a way to make their activity sustainable in the long run.
Until now, income from the renewed mining has only totaled some $640,000. For economist Aloys Mupira, the returns are still quite modest compared to other sectors. "It would be wise to put more resources into this sector," says Mupira. "Then the state can start to see the economic benefits as well."