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Forsaking Riches, Aboriginal Land Owner Halts Nuke Giant's Uranium Mine

A 30-year battle ends in victory for owners of land that French energy giant Areva wanted to mine for uranium. 





DARWIN – French nuclear energy giant Areva had big ambitions for this Australian uranium deposit: 14,000 tons of uranium, worth $2 billion, reports Le Monde.

But now, it’s worth nothing, thanks to the tireless efforts of the land's original owners – the Djok aboriginal clan. This month, Australian Environmental Minister Tony Burke started the process to incorporate the deposit into a national park, effectively putting an end to Areva’s mining ambitions.

For decades, says Australia's ABC news, Lee, the last remaining traditional owner of the Koongarra uranium deposit, in Australia’s Kakadu National Park, has been refusing to allow the deposit to be mined.

Areva holds the exploration license to the deposit, which was discovered in 1970. In 1979, the area was excluded from the national park so that the uranium could be mined. But the Djok clan relentlessly fought offers by Areva to mine the deposit.

A delegation even travelled to Paris to convince the World Heritage Committee to get the Koongarra deposit back into the Kakadu National Park, reports ABC News. According to the Australian government, Areva went as far as to request Koongarra be removed from the meeting’s agenda.

But Jeffrey Lee never stopped fighting, even though he says his decision went against the wishes of his father and grandfather, who wanted mining to go ahead.

According to The Age, Lee could have become one of Australia’s richest men if he had allowed the French nuclear energy giant to mine the 12.5-kilometer mineral lease.

"I'm not interested in money. I've got a job. I can go fishing and hunting. That's all that matters to me," he told The Age in 2007.

As news broke of Koongarra’s incorporation into Kakadu National Park, Jeffrey Lee told reporters “This is the moment I was waiting for, for a very long, long time.”

Lee said, “This is a great day for me, my country and my culture. My mind is at peace now that I know that there will be no mining at Koongarra and that Djok lands will be protected forever in Kakadu National Park,” according to the Environmental News Service.

“I have said no to uranium mining at Koongarra because I believe that the land and my cultural beliefs are more important than mining and money. Money comes and goes, but the land is always here, it always stays if we look after it and it will look after us,” he said.

There are two other uranium deposits in Kakadu National Park, the Ranger and Jabiluka mines, which have also set off battles between locals and outside interests.

Photos Alberto OG

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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