BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – Several flood victims in Buchanan are accusing mining giant ArcelorMittal of bearing responsibility for the floods last July that damaged properties and left many homeless.
The county’s Disaster Management Committee had revealed that 2,900 persons and 240 homes were affected in Grand Bassa from 15 communities. In some communities in Buchanan, the victims fled their homes without food or clothing due to the severity of the flood.
Speaking to The Bush Chicken recently in an interview in the Fairground community in Buchanan, the victims said they held ArcelorMittal responsible because of fences built around the company’s facilities.
One of the victims, Pastor James Teah of the Jesus Evangelistic Healing and Deliverance Ministry, said his room and church were flooded, resulting in loss of cash and damage to a vehicle.
Teah said, unlike some who had left the flooded area, he had stayed at his church.
“The water level was very high, so I took the table and put benches on top of it – placed my mattress there to sleep,” he said. “I was here. I did not leave this place because I have lots of things in this place such as zinc and other properties. What I did was to send my children out of this place – the church could not hold Sunday service.”
Teah said when he moved into the community in 2011, the area did not experience as much flooding. However, he claims that ArcelorMittal’s closure of drainages is leading to increased flooding.
“It is because the drainages have been closed by [ArcelorMittal] because the water was flowing in the sea, but all those places have been closed,” Teah added. “Since LAMCO time, people have not actually experienced this thing, so I think [ArcelorMittal] and companies that are coming and closing those drainages along the road, especially around the Own Your Own Area and other places, that is the cause of the flood.”
He said although the company opened some drainages in the Dirt Hole community, those drainages were not the major ones. The ones according to him are along the Own Your Own road and the fence that was built by the company to stop people from trespassing.
He asked that the government ask ArcelorMittal to open the drainages to allow better control of floodwater. Alternatively, Teah said he could move out of the community if the government could reimburse him for the cost of his US$50,000 home and church.
Another flood victim who lives in the same community, Arthur Wedee, said the flood destroyed several properties of his, including mattresses, important documents, and clothes. He also recounted that in the years past, the area did not flood as frequently or as severely. He blamed the change on the mining company’s construction around the drainages. He also told The Bush Chicken that the community experienced flooding in 2012, but it did not cause the amount of damage it did in 2018, where over 60 houses were affected in the Fairgrounds community.
“If the government will help us in the process to have a good drainage system here, it would be very much taken,” said Wedee, who owns two homes that were damaged by the flood.
He confirmed that the county and other partners such as the Red Cross had provided temporary assistance to him after last year’s flood.
ArcelorMittal’s superintendent of communications, Nykita Diggs, responded to the accusations by noting that engineers had found that the recent flooding was caused by blocked drainages in the communities – not by the fences the company had built to protect their premises.
“We believe we cannot do anything without some kind of interaction with the local government to find the best solution, and after working with them and their engineers, it was determined that it was actually the blocking of the drainages and culverts that caused the flooding,” she said. “I think that is shown through the fact that since we cleared them in August, we have not seen any additional flooding since that time as far as we know.”
In July 2018, immediately after the flood, ArcelorMittal hired 25 men to clean the drainages in affected communities such as Moore Town, Bassa Community, and Dirt Hole community for 10 days. They were paid US$5 daily by Arcelor Mittal and it was jointly supervised by the county authority and Arcelor Mittal.
At that time, County Information Officer Eddie Williams told The Bush Chicken, “ArcelorMittal, after consultation with the superintendent, met with the development section and technical assessment team [and] went on the field, and what they are doing right now is to look at the various drainages.”
He clarified that the county was “not saying that [ArcelorMittal] is responsible for the flooding – as [a] corporate partner, we are asking all of the partners to help us intervene, with ArcelorMittal being in the forefront.”
Diggs said the company is “very conscious” of its environment and would not make decisions that would negatively impact the surrounding community. She told The Bush Chicken that if the county submits a report to the company that engineers missed something, and indeed, the company is responsible for the flooding, ArcelorMittal would rectify the situation. However, as far as she is concerned, they are not the cause of the flooding.
Diggs said ArcelorMittal was only aware of issues in Dirt Hole community, but if there was another community affected, that community should contact the superintendent’s office to engage with the company.
ArcelorMittal built their fence in 2016 as a mean of protecting their properties, there have been criticisms from some flood victims who allege that the fence is preventing the free flow of floodwater, thereby forcing it back to the community. Near where the fences were constructed, some culverts and pipes can be seen clogged with dirt.
The National Disaster Management Agency of Liberia has classified many areas that were flooded as being at risk of future floods. However, the NDMA’s deputy executive director for operations, Augustine Tamba has said the government does not have the funds to relocate residents.
“We cannot stop it and we cannot try to relocate them because we do not have the financial capacity to do that, as government. So, what we do is that we wait at the appropriate time when there is a need for a response like what we did,” he added. “But these people are quite aware that those places they live are below sea level. So, it is obvious that when the rain falls, they are going to suffer from it and when you tell them to leave, you have a lot of demonstrations in the streets [which] the government does not want to see.”
Featured photo courtesy by Onesimus Garway