Africa: China-backed face intense backlash over environmental threats

Beijing, China: Many projects of which are backed by China in Africa are facing objection as they are harming the environment and ecosystem on that area. The projects are to gain commodities like, oil, metal, timber. Most of these projects are the part of the Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
China plans to invest in a massive deposit of high-grade iron ore in the Simandou mountains of Guinea, which opponents say will destroy livelihoods in the process of reducing Beijing’s independence on Australian imports amid tensions with Canberra, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).
In Ghana, a USD 2 billion bauxite-for-infrastructure deal with Chinese state-owned firm Sinohydro Corp has also drawn fire for posing a threat to the environment and the people.
Uganda and Tanzania last week approved the construction of an oil pipeline between the two countries, which also received calls for being scrapped by environmentalists.
Elizabeth Losos, a senior fellow at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute in the United States, confirmed that some China-funded projects in Africa had done enormous damage to communities and the environment.
“The real tragedy is that in many of these cases early consultation and planning could have avoided these disasters,” she said.
Losos also said that the Ghana-Sinohydro deal was agreed upon without conducting a sector-wide assessment to figure out how much bauxite could be mined without polluting drinking water, thus damaging farmers’ livelihoods or threatening natural treasures, SCMP reported.
“Once word got out what was happening, protests erupted. Sinohydro’s reputation has been damaged within Ghana and across the globe,” she said.
As a result of pressure from environmental groups, several China-backed projects in Africa have been blocked.
SCMP reported that a Kenyan court in 2019 ordered a halt to the construction of a USD 2 billion coal-fired power plant in Lamu after activists argued it would endanger a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
The Industrial Commercial Bank of China, which was providing USD 1.2 billion of the funds, subsequently pulled out of the deal.
“There is no doubt that Chinese commercial actors … have tried to evade environmental requirements,” said Yun Sun, director of the China programme at the Stimson Centre in Washington.
Meanwhile, a senior fellow at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute, said Beijing was not unaware of the potential risks involved with private and state-owned firms operating in belt and road countries.
“Reducing these risks requires more uniformly applied standards and practices on environmental and social issues by China’s outbound actors, which is likely to come only via coherent policy requirements from the top down,” he said.
Chinese investment in Africa has also come under the scanner as many have accused it of entrappingcountries in its ‘debt-trap’ diplomacy.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) persistently warns African and other third-world countries that mounting debts to China are dangerous. It stresses that Chinese creditors create some instability or vulnerabilities.