Jakob von Uexkull, Founder of the World Future Council and the Right Livelihood Award, has voiced concerns about the future of Namibian fisheries should the planned Sandpiper marine phosphate mining project be allowed to go ahead: “Mining is a short-term non-renewable activity. Once the phosphate has been extracted, the jobs are gone. In contrast, if fisheries are managed sustainably, as in Namibia, the food and job security they provide can last for many generations to come.”
On 16 October 2012, the World Future Council presented Namibia with the silver Future Policy Award for its landmark Marine Resources Act of 2000, which provides the framework for a sustainable fishing industry. The Honorable Kilus Nguvauva, Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, accepted the award on behalf of the Namibian government at the 11th UN Biodiversity Summit in Hyderabad, India.
The proposed Sandpiper phosphate mine would be located in rich hake fishing grounds in the South Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Walvis Bay. Representatives of the Namibian fishing industry and local communities have already expressed concerns that the mining activity would destroy the benthic habitat and the sediment produced by the mining activity would reduce oxygen levels and decimate the populations of the valuable fish. There are also concerns about hazardous materials affecting wildlife in general. Strategic environmental assessments of the coast are in the process.
The World Future Council strongly warns against potential hazards. Von Uexkull: “The risks of the project are incalculable and potentially devastating, as it is the first time phosphate would be mined at sea anywhere in the world. Application of the precautionary principle is critical in this instance if we are to protect our oceans.”
The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the
public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmless, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk.
Von Uexkull was honoured as a “European Hero” by The Times in 2005 and received the Order of Merit First Class of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2009. Today he stated: “The issues in Namibia echo wider concerns about emerging deep-sea mining that are being explored as technology is developing. The hazards for current and future generations need to be carefully considered by governments.“
Sandpiper plans to mine five million tonnes of marine phosphate annually for twenty years.