Papua New Guinea extractive companies urged to be considerate and sustainable

A group of Catholic students from Port Moresby urged Papua New Guinea extractive companies to respect the environment for the well-being of indigenous peoples and future generations. Their call echoes one of the nine Calls “in the name of God” addressed by Pope Francis in his message to the Fourth World Meeting of Popular Movements.

By Lisa Zengarini

Among the many questions raised by Pope Francis in his recent video message to the Fourth World Meeting of Popular Movements was the damage caused by mining activities to the environment and to the livelihoods of many poor communities around the world.

His call for the extractive industries “to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas and to stop poisoning food and people” resounded strongly during the event. ‘a youth panel discussion organized on October 20 by the Papuan Catholic radio station “NBC – Tribe FM”.

Five students from St. Joseph’s International Catholic College in Port Moresby were invited to speak on “Impacts of the Extractive Industries” as part of the weekly “Chat Room” discussion program.

The presentation covered various aspects of the topic which focused on basic information of the extractive industry; its impact on developing economies and improving livelihoods; comparison of the pros and cons of the industry; mention of local and international case studies; the reality of the industry’s operations in Papua New Guinea; the damage caused by the extractive industry and the essential role young people play in raising awareness, reducing negative effects and stimulating social change.

Irreversible damage to the environment and people

While acknowledging the positive impact of the extractive industry on the Papuan economy and society as a whole, the high school students pointed out that it has also caused serious and irreversible damage to the environment and people.

They mentioned the loss of environmental biodiversity, deforestation, erosion, altered soil profiles, contamination of local waterways and wetlands, as well as the displacement of indigenous landowners. A classic example in this regard, they noted, is Australia, which was taken over by Europeans who forcibly and harshly drove the inhabitants of their homeland to the margins of society.

Political and economic unrest

Participants also noted that if the extractive industry is not managed with care, it can cause long-term political and economic turmoil that further impacts people’s lives.

As an example of mismanagement, a student cited the 10-year Bougainville conflict that was sparked by tensions between indigenous landowners and Papuan miners in the Panguna copper mine. The conflict, which ended in 1998, has claimed thousands of civilian lives.

Young people called to play a central role in stimulating change

Concluding their discussion, participants underlined the essential role that young people are called to play in raising awareness and stimulating change.

They said that the younger generations and the general public should be informed and better understand the impacts of the extractive industry so that they can defend the rights of people.

Catholic students also called on the Papuan government to be more transparent and accountable in the management of national resources by ensuring that they benefit local communities.

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