Bankwatch scoring against EBRD’s Mining Projects

CEE Bankwatch, an advocacy NGO, has been scoring PR points against the European Bank (EBRD) and its involvement in gold mining projects in Armenia, Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan. Would EBRD’s exit resolve the allegations and concerns raised by Bankwatch - and existing legacies associated with 'brownfield mining'?

The report by CEE Bankwatch, carried on human rights related website, alleges that gold mining projects financed by the EBRD harm environment, local communities in Armenia, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan. 

Putting aside the usual distractions of fact and fiction, more interesting question emerge. One of them is about the role EBRD should play with regard to ‘brownfield’ mining operations often located within a depressing environmental and socio-economic context. Also, are the project developers doing enough to demonstrate their impacts – positive, negative and differentiate these from major legacy issues - in a balanced and credible way?

 Watching an interviewee complain that the ‘cherry harvest was heavy before’ or that there are ‘lots of people with cancer now’ placed in the context of a project co-financed by the European Bank is – by design – shocking. But it is not clear why the viewers are not also allowed to appreciate the realities of the local context.

For the Armenian project, for example, this includes a history of Soviet-era mining legacies, armed conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan leaving bomb shell marks and too many graves in the villages, a crumbling infrastructure and poor health conditions, and an economy which is largely dependent on diaspora for its survival.

It seems that the EBRD has its work cut out to formulate a nuanced mining strategy. The EBRD will need to balance the – sometimes limited - opportunities (additionality) that some initial investments and improvements can bring to such ‘brownfield sites’ loaded with heavy legacies and many competing priorities, against a persistent PR risk and potential additional project impacts.

Or do you think that the EBRD should simply stay away from these sorts of projects? And what do you think the project developers should do faced with such legacies - and competing opportunities?