Maputo, Mozambique – Discoveries of gas off the coast of northern Mozambique in the early 2000s left many predicting that the country would become the continent’s new economic powerhouse. But, almost 14 years later, many people have yet to see much benefit.
According to the World Bank, 55 percent of Mozambique’s population still lives below the poverty line.
Furthermore, many small communities find themselves suffering more than benefiting from the influx of the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry, which here includes companies such as US giant Anadarko, Norway’s Statoil, Italy’s ENI, and Malaysia’s Petronas.
Palma in northern Mozambique is one such community. It is a village along the northern coastline, adjoining the Rovuma basin, which holds the largest gas reserves yet found in the country.
Generations of Palma’s men have gone out to sea each morning or night, to bring home catches that they will both sell and feed their families with. They say that fish are now scarce, since Texan company Anadarko began exploration in 2006, an activity which involves drilling into the seabed. This exploration, they say, is threatening their entire livelihood.
Zaino Arband Nasoro, now in his 40s, has been a fisherman since he was 16.
“We used to bring home 300kg of fish a day,” he said, heading out to sea in his tiny red boat. “Now we come back with 25 or 30kg.
“We only found out that something was going on when we couldn’t go near our main fishing area anymore. One day there were small boats around the area who said that we can’t come nearer than a kilometre. People here were saying ‘Anadarko, Anadarko’, that’s how I learnt the name.
“When there is blasting under the water, the fish get scared and they run away,” says Nasoro. “They used to warn us when they would be blasting, but now they don’t warn us beforehand, we just hear a voice over a loudspeaker telling us to get out of the sea.”
He says that the drilling and blasting makes the water cloudy, and it becomes more difficult to catch what fish remain in the area. The fishermen use traditional methods, often physically diving to great depths to herd fish into the nets, so visibility is imperative.
“We have to wait two to three days before we can fish again,” says Nasoro. “The lights of the machines underground are bigger and brighter than our small lights, so the fish flock to them.”
Many of the chemical impacts may not become apparent until a long time after the particular given field has gone into full production.
Paul Johnson is the director of the Greenpeace International Science Unit at the University of Exeter. He said that in an area where gas exploration or exploitation is taking place, there is a potential for anything from the physical obstruction of traditional fishing areas to the tainting of fish with hydrocarbons or chemicals used in the process.
“Many of the chemical impacts may not become apparent until a long time after the particular given field has gone into full production,” he said. The disturbance from seismic testing can temporarily drive fish away, he added, and the percussive impact can rupture their swim bladders or damage sensory organs.
“It can be quite a complex picture, in terms of occupying space over the sea bed, disturbing the sea bed, and discharging drill cuttings and chemicals into the water, due to either the drilling itself, or to chemicals discharged from processing the gas stream,” said Johnson.
“It is difficult to see what the long term impacts will be in the Mozambique gas fields at this point, but these are things that can and have taken place in the exploitation of gas fields, and should be taken into account.”
According to Anadarko’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Palma project, yet to be approved by the Mozambique government, “impacts due to the security exclusion zones around the LNG facility… during construction and operations will displace artisanal fishing efforts and locally increase exploitation pressure on the fish community outside of the zones, resulting in impacts of minor significance”.
Mitigation measures, to reduce such impacts, “are yet to be identified”.
The EIA says that, regarding other environmental concerns, most of the impacts – such as the discharge of drill cuttings, the changing of the habitat, and the impact of increased traffic and increased noise, will be reduced through mitigation procedures from “moderate” impacts to “minor” or “negligible” impacts.
On the ocean road in Palma is a small structure, clearly newly built and freshly painted. A sign on the building says “Anadarko”.
“Anadarko built this room for us to meet,” says Edward Saida, standing outside the building. He is a middle-aged man with a seaswept face, who has worked upon the ocean all his life.
“But there were only six meetings with no outcome. We are exhausted. Every month we say the same thing; it’s become a routine. When they come to talk to us, we complain, we tell them our concerns, then they go away and nothing changes. They always just say they are going to develop the district. But it doesn’t help – I can’t fish. The sea has become too small.”
We are trying to ensure that the fishermen have access to their normal fishing grounds, and actually to make sure that they have increased capacity in terms of improved methods... access to improved markets and refrigeration.
Marliza Eloff, a consultant from RS Risk Solutions who oversees the social impact of Anadarko’s project in Palma, says Anadarko has a fisheries department which has been monitoring vessel and catch movement, to feed into developments to minimise the impact of the operations on fisheries.
“We are trying to ensure that the fishermen have access to their normal fishing grounds, and actually to make sure that they have increased capacity in terms of improved methods, or eventually as determined through consultation with them, access to improved markets and refrigeration, for example.”
Working on behalf of Anadarko, she said that the consultation involves talking with fishermen on their fears and concerns. “It’s not just about awareness,” she added. “It’s deep and thorough and ongoing.”
But Camilo Nhancale disagreed. He is chief executive of the Youth Development and Environmental Advocacy Organisation, based in Maputo, and has been vocal on local and international platforms. He says that Anadarko needs to put more focus on social justice. Although they have already begun offshore and onshore exploration, he says that there was no prior public consultation, the community was not told of the positive and negative implications and was not asked for informed consent.
And Palma is not the only place in Mozambique that has been notably impacted by the extractive industry.
“The extractive boom that began 10 years ago brought in international giants investing billions,” said Nhancale. “But the country is not benefiting financially. The industry is changing the lives of those communities who make a living off these natural resources – peasants, fishermen and farmers. These companies have grabbed their land, and they are moved to areas where the land is not fertile, without fair compensation, and are not given alternatives to sustain their livelihood.
“If people are not bringing in as much fish as before, they need to be compensated. Anadarko shouldn’t come at the expense of making the community poorer than they are.”
Follow Ilham Rawoot on Twitter at the Dirty Profits Exposed project: @DirtyProfitsExp
This report was produced with the support of the Facing Finance campaign.