What is the story all about? 

If you are walking through a village and every 100m you came across five people coughing, one after every 20m, then your first thought will be to ask yourself whether you are safe in that village. Well, this may very much sound like a hypothetical scenario but in actual fact, this was the case of villagers around Ngaka Coal Mine in Ruvuma region. Owing to the daily explosions at the mine, toxic dust arising from the explosions contaminated water sources surrounding it. Unfortunately, the villagers were on the receiving end in the sense that they became victims of diseases and outbreaks such as coughing and typhoid.

The objective of this story was to prove that indeed the mine’s presence in the village was having negative effects to the residents surrounding it. 

What was the support from TMF? 

Thanks to the contaminated water, a journalist by the name of Albano Midello got word that something was not right at the village, and so he immediately decided to do something about it. His first step was to seek grants from TMF, from where he received a rural dispatch grant of $2,000 after which he headed for Ruvuma on a fact-finding mission. Under the mentorship of Mr. Ebenezer Mende the journalist was able to successfully complete his assignment

What happened in the field of journalistic work?

Midelo went to the field well guided by his mentor with full support from TMF. On reaching there, he engaged a medical doctor at Peramiho Hospital in Ruvuma Region to establish whether coalmining activities could actually have adverse health effects on the surrounding villagers. The doctor confirmed that all the ailments the villagers suffered were aptly related to coal mining activities.

Midello was not satisfied with the medical proof alone and he sought too look for a second opinion. Fortunately, he bumped into the Village Executive Officer (VEO) who also confirmed that some villagers had indeed been fainting and falling sick while some women had suffered miscarriages.

Besides causing diseases, explosions at the mines had also caused buildings of nearby Ntunduwaro Primary School to develop cracks and at times pupils were forced to seek refuge under the trees as they felt the classrooms were not safe.  

When contacted by the grantee, TANCOAL management claimed that the water was safe for drinking as the mining firm was conducting regular tests. But the question was, did TANCOAL themselves conduct their own independent tests?

 Not wanting to rely on secondary information, the journalist sought independent water tests for all the water sources in that area from an independent chemist to confirm TANCOAL’s claims, an exercise that cost him Tshs. 90,000. The chemist proved that water from all the sources at Ngaka Village had been badly contaminated and recommended evacuation of the villagers from the area. 

The journalist also engaged the environment officer for the region to ascertain whether an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) test was conducted prior to the commencement of mining activities. The officer noted that his office had instructed the mining company to adhere to all regulations, including the EIA, before commencing mining. However, it is not certain whether the officer confirmed whether the EIA was verified to confirm that there would be no negative impact. 

Ironically, the officer even went a step further to mention that there was a possibility of fish dying in the rivers due to contamination. Second question that comes to one’s mind at this point is, why were the authorities on the ground not being proactive about the negative impact the mining company was having on the environment?

Anyway, armed with all this information and relevant proof, Midello then embarked on compiling six stories, which were published in Habari Leo Newspaper on July 2016, Mwenge Newspaper in Ruvuma, a media outlet owned by the Roman Catholic Church as well as Uhuru Newspaper.

How has the story triggered accountability?

Shortly after the publication of the first feature, Midello went to the RC’s office where he was informed that the feature stories had prompted him to visit the mine.  It was reported that in an attempt to defend the company, the Resident Mining Officer asked for the independent laboratory test results, but his request was denied because there was no consent sought from the journalist. It was later revealed that immediately after the reports appeared, the coal firm suspended its production manager who had claimed that the water was fit for human drinking.

It is important to note that at the time the journalist was doing his fact finding, the villagers informed him that the company had promised them compensation for their confiscated land. However, they also expressed fear that the mine authorities would probably bribe the journalist so that he would leave the news unpublished.

The RC told the TMF team that he was so impressed by the journalist’s work and commented that Midello should be recruited to work for the Government.

The Verification Exercise

The verification team interviewed a number of people who gave their testimonies as to the impact the published stories had on the lives of the people. They include Ntunduwaro Village Executive Officer, a villager called John Haule, a ward councilor, and the editor of Mwenge Newspaper. However, the team was unable to meet with Mbinga District Commissioner as he was reportedly away from office having gone to the mine area where he was scheduled to discuss matters pertaining to compensation with the villagers whose land had been grabbed by the company.

During the interviews the verifier found out that the stories had the following impact:

  • Himid Diddy,  the production  manager  at  TANCOAL had  been  accused  of  being uncooperative and was subsequently suspended after the stories were published;

 

  • Both Ruvuma RC and Mbinga DC made impromptu visits to Ntunduwaro Village immediately after the publication of the stories, as confirmed by the Ntunduwaro Village Executive Officer, Mr. Joseph Herbert Ngali.

“Midello’s work has had a great impact on the lives of all of us around Ngaka Coal Mine as a new water source has been identified at the Kindimba Juu area and a budget has been set aside by the Government to facilitate access to clean and safe water by the villagers. Moreover, TANCOAL mine has constructed water pipes and installed a pump at the mine to pump the water to the village and villagers around here use it as we speak,” said the VEO as he showed the verifier one of the water taps.

 

  • Ruanda Ward Councilor, Edmound Nditi  said:  “TANCOAL  mine  has  identified another water source at Ntunduwaro and the mine is willing to contribute 30m/- for water connections to the village.  Previously the budget for water connections from the other source was 314m/- and the mine was willing to share its costs with the municipal council. Regional authorities allocated new plots to 261 villagers of Ntunduwaro in January 2017. The latter had been struggling for several years after they had been evacuated to pave the way for the construction of the mine,” said the Ward Councilor.

 

  • A local expert, Mr. Erick Mapunda undertook training on October 2016 to enable him to oversee mine explosives, so as to ensure that the mine adheres to TBS regulations.
  • The DC paid a visit to the village twice after the said stories were published to discuss the issue of compensation for the land taken by the company from the villagers;
  • Sales of Mwenge soared as attested by Mr. Oswald Ngonyani - who is the editor for Mwenge Publications, where Midello works as a journalist. He noted:  

“Since Midello’s stories on the effects of coal mining on people’s health were published, sales of our newspaper shot up by 500 copies.  We used to sell 3000 copies, but we have been compelled to increase our copies to 3500.  We conducted a survey around the region to find out the reasons for the rise in sales and our readers cited the articles on coal mining by Midello. Midello has been working for the newspaper since 2014 but it was only late last year that the sales shot. Midello’s name now appear as part of the editorial team,” the editor said.

  • Villagers whose houses were damaged by the explosions in the mines, have been told to list down their names for them to get compensation from the company. Ntunduwaro VEO confirming this during the interview with the verification team said although no timelines on this were given, it was fair to believe that the villagers would be compensated because the Prime Minister has threatened that he would close the mine if it fails to honor its promises; and
  • Ruanda Ward Councilor in Mbinga, Mr. Edmound Nditi told the TMF team that, “Mr. Midello’s stories have had a big impact to the community, in that they have acted to awaken the authorities and the people on the causes of the illnesses they have been suffering from – including chronic coughing.”

During a visit to Ngaka Coal Mine on 8 January 2017, the Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa directed the following: “TANCOAL should immediately fulfill their responsibility by providing residents of Ntunduwaro Village in Ruanda Ward with clean and safe water, since their coal-mining activities have resulted in the contamination of the natural sources of water. Failure to this, the Government may be forced to close the mine.”

Further, the Prime Minister ordered the following:

  • That the mine should immediately construct a tarmac road from the coal mine to Kitai to prevent dust from polluting the air which causes health problems to residents of the mining area. On the same note, the road from Ruanda to Lituhi should be repaired;

 

  • The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment must ensure that there is effective implementation of the contract between the National Development Corporation (NDC) and TANCOAL; and

 

  • Mbinga Rural Constituency MP Mr. Martin Msuha, should make a follow up on the duties of the coal mine as stipulated in the contract and ensure that they are fulfilled including the provision of clean and safe water to residents of the surrounding villages. In a word the stories by the grantee have made a huge impact as they have saved lives of 2400 residents of Ntunduwaro village as well as their descendants who would have perished for using contaminated water and inhaling coal dust.

 

Conclusion

With $2,000 support offered to the journalist, the stories published drew the government’s attention to the plight of the villagers of Ntunduwaro, which led to its intervention. As a result, thousands of villagers got access to clean and safe water thus averting an impending catastrophe that would have had adverse effects on the entire village.