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BLACKSMITH TRAINS PAPUAN NGO

Papua New Guinea boasts dense, lush, pristine, rugged, green terrain. Beneath lies a rich endowment of natural resources, including oil, copper, and particularly gold. These mineral deposits account for 72 percent of the country's export earnings. That is why Blacksmith Institute is partnering with the Centre for Environmental Research & Development Inc. (CERD), the only Papuan nongovernmental organization exclusively involved in mining.

A leading local research institute on a range of environmental issues, CERD conducts independent scientific and policy research; provides environmental awareness and skills training, including a focus on the participation of women; and presents community and alternative development projects. Its work is closely coordinated with the Papua New Guinea government.

Blacksmith will work with CERD to identify sites where mining may be affecting human health. Samples will be taken and risk assessments carried out as part of Blacksmith's ongoing global inventory work.

Country Background 

Independent from external powers since 1975, Papua New Guinea is by far one of the most culturally-diverse countries on the planet with over 850 indigenous languages and at least as many traditional societies. It is also one of the most rural countries with transportation severely limited by mountainous terrain with most areas reached only by light aircraft or on foot.

Papua New Guinea's seven million people mostly live in villages that rely on subsistence farming, many in extreme poverty, a third on less than $1.25 a day. A large proportion of people are illiterate, particularly women. There are only five physicians per 100,000 people, with malaria the main cause of death and epidemic HIV/AIDS incidence, highest in the Pacific region.

In 2006 the United Nations downgraded Papua New Guinea to "least-developed" status because of protracted economic and social stagnation. However two years later, the International Monetary Fund found that a combination of prudent fiscal/monetary policies and high global prices for its mineral commodity exports had created recent buoyant economic growth that was expected to continue.

The Workshop

Blacksmith's Program Manager Bret Ericson visited a typical Papuan river community while conducting a three-day training workshop for CERD since one day of Blacksmith's training is always spent at a contaminated site. Here initial site assessment is demonstrated and Ericson introduced CERD's professionals to Blacksmith's protocol, part of the ongoing Global Inventory Project which is identifying toxic pollution problems in low and medium income countries in this region and globally.

CERD Executive Director Matilda Koma and Community Development Officer Baru Amevo, among other investigators, were briefed on quick identification according to the three "P-P-P" criteria: the pollutant, exposure pathway, and number of people affected.

About a four-hour drive from the capital city of Port Moresby, Ericson and CERD staff talked with residents among the small-scale farming and fishing communities of the area, home to an estimated 10,000 people, who use the river for fishing, washing, and drinking. That is how they are at risk--dermal contact, inhalation, ingestion.

Confence-room-based training included a range of topics: general backgrounding on Blacksmith and the Global Inventory Project; health as a project focus; overview of site identification and assessment; Blacksmith's initial site assessment protocol; estimating population at risk; and electronic form filing.

The workshop was funded by the Asian Development Bank.