03-Dec-2002: By Meena Menon for planets-voice.org
After acres and acres of green sugar beet fields, a small hillock
leads you to an unusually bizarre view near Erkelenz, which is about
half an hour by train from Dusseldorf. A large deep canyon 6 km to
12 km wide and over 70 metres deep spreads below you and the muggy
day clouds the range of muted colours below with black jagged lines
Only the giant black excavators are clear as they cut into the
earth, mining lignite, which together with coal, supplies almost 25
to 30 per cent of Germanys electricity. Just behind, tall
chimneys spew gusts of white smoke. The state of North Rhine
Westphalia has a long history of coal mining and steel production,
which has decreased over the years, but it still produces 55 per
cent of Germanys lignite and 85 per cent of coal.
And while mining the fertile soil for lignite, people have become
the casualties. Garzweiler 1 as the mining area is called, is slowly
eating into their farm lands, draining precious ground water
reserves and causing pollution that is affecting their health. "It
is like the Sahara desert," said Gisela Irving, part of the
Peoples Initiative in Rhineland to stop open cast lignite
Nearly 90 per cent of the lignite is used to produce electricity
over the years. Each ton of lignite burned produces one tonne of
carbon dioxide, Gisela said. The lignite is being mined by
Rheinbraun, which belongs to RWE, a large (or the largest) German
Dr Henning Rentz, senior manager, corporate environment/political
affairs of RWE AG, justified the displacement and said there were
being provided adequate compensation.
According to the Peoples Initiative, between Cologne, Aachen,
once the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, and Monchengladbach in
Germany, about 100 million tonnes of lignite are extracted annually
in three large open cast mines. These local mine fields are called
Hambach 1, Inden 1 and 2 and Garzweiler 1 . The planning for further
mining projects extends to the middle of this century.
The Rhineland is full of old Roman ruins and centuries old farms and
several rivers, with vast reserves of ground water.Johannes
Dunochede , 74, of village Pesch is a farmer who has lived here
since 1958. He lost about 15 hectares of his 30 total due to the
mines. The reclaimed mines have new soil which lack nutrients, he
added. Vegetables cannot be grown here any more as the soil has
become too sticky. The state of North Rhine Westphalia has the best
soil but after mining has begun, there has been water logging in the
farms and milk production has dropped, he said. "I have got rid
of the cattle because it is unviable and now my daughter runs the
farm part-time," he added.
RB has devastated the area and earlier they used to offer land but
now just the money, he added. A number of people oppose the mining
but few of the affected want to speak up as they fear their chances
of a good resettlement package will be affected. Pesch is expected
to be displaced in 2005.
Gisela said , "If I want to move out, I will sell my home for
30 per cent less of the actual cost. It was a beautiful place for
retirement and I can grow my own vegetables." She moved here
some years ago to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside and
instead found herself locking horns with a large mining company. Her
village, Holzweiler, will be asked to vacate in 2027.
Willi Jansen is a pensioner who moved her since 1964. At 65, he
faces the prospect of being displaced and it is not one he relishes.
His village Keyenberg will be displaced in 2020.
To keep the mines dry, all the ground water is drained out by a
chain of pumping stations that create a tunnel around the mines and
over 3000 cubic feet of water is being pumped out for each tonne of
lignite. Most of this water is unused and ends up in the Rhine and
For Garzweiler 2, 195 million cubic yards of water will be pumped
out, destroying drinking water sources in favour of lignite,
according to Mr Dunochede. The pumping stations are located in
meadows and sinking levels of acquifers mean that the meadows are
drying out. With the expansion of mining, the open cast areas could
stretch within 12 km of the Maas Schwalm Nette Nature Park on the
Dutch German border and threaten its uncultivated pristine
Since 1950, lignite has been excavated and till now, about 62,500
acres has been devastated by the mines, according to the Peoples
Initiatve.Two thirds of that has been recultivated but the loss of
natural rivers, ecosystems --land and water are not compensated for.
The tragedy of displacement , loss of farmlands and homes is
compounded by the fact that the government does not seem to be
concerned with this area and the effects of mining on the
population. There seem to be are no health or environment impact
While Germany has a commitment to reduce CO2
emission by 25 per cent by 2005 and there are new laws for renewable
energy, the people living around these mines are a forgotten part of
history. Right now only ten people are actively in the struggle and
this could be their last stand.
Till 1985, over 30,000 people have been displaced by the mines and
some more villages are in the process of moving out- homes are shut
down, old churches look desolate and houses which are hundreds of
years old, will soon be taken over by excavators. Four more villages
are set to move and 14 more are in the pipeline if the mining
continues. The villages of Lower Rhine have a cultural significance
and archeological finds date back to 7000 years. Though there are
resettlement packages and financial burden of setting up a new house
has caused serious repercussions.
The mines are shifting at the rate of 5 km a year and soon they will
overtake large tracts of fertile land, feared Mr Dunochede, who
added that land values had changed tremendously in the last 30 years
or so. The water sources are most likely contaminated by lignite and
there is no life in them. Ground water levels have dipped from 18
metres to 70 metres. The struggle against lignite was supported by
the Green Party, now part of a coalition in the state government of
North Rhine Westphalia. However for the Greens, who even have a
minister for agriculture and environment , the fight is almost over.
For Gisela and the farmers, the fight is necessary for their
survival but without any support, it is doubtful how long they can
hold out. At Petra Schmidts centuries old farm in Jackerath,
some of the buildings date back to the 12th century. Even small
repairs of the farm need to go through strict clearance, she said.
The large farm with its stables and tiled houses, was once
surrounded by a moat and drawbridge. The yard is typical of the
Rhineland, Petra said and it was important to preserve this kind of
a farm for future generations. "The area was the known as the
corn basket of the region and now the mines threaten several
buildings of cultural importance," she said.
"Regulations that are stringent for building repairs even, do
not apply to companies such as RB," she said. "Lignite
mining will make sure the next generation has nothing," she
added. The alternative for Petra was to sell and migrate- but land
prices are sliding due to the onset of the mines.
People get low prices for their houses and have to spend the current
rates, which are much higher, to build new ones. She fears that a
community culture will be disrupted-for instance in the village
people share farm equipment and help out each other. "My
children are depressed and think it will be catastrophic.Now that we
have the wind park nearby we dont really RB." Nearby is
Ozterath, which is already being resettled-empty houses line silent
gray winding roads..
Babel Huhn, minister for agriculture and environment from the Green
Party in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, said that the region
was known for its coal and lignite production since the days of the
Third Reich. "Now there is conflict between Red and Green
coalition as the minister for energy is a Social Democrat which
identifies itself with the mining industry," said Ms Huhn .
The only thing she could do in the face of pressure to continue with
mining, was to insist on strict compliance of water pollution laws.
RB is now liable for the slightest pollution violations. "We
were not really for Garzweiler 2 and even if it gets underway, it
will not be as huge as planned and so much area will not be
excavated. I am responsible for the water pollution aspect and there
was tremendous pressure on me and attempts to sideline me," she
Garzweiler 2 was already permitted by her predecessor and she agreed
that the social aspects of mining were totally ignored. Germanys
environment laws put the burden of proof on those affected, making
it difficult to seek legal intervention.
In stark contrast to the devastation to land and humanity caused by
mining , is the states and countrys commitment to
promote renewable energy sources. Near the mines, the landscape is
full of wind parks and more and more people are opting for a cleaner
energy source. The state of North Rhine Westphalia is in the
forefront of promoting renewable energy with innovations like the
worlds largest roof integrated solar power station at Herne,
Europes biggest solar cell factory and a science park at
Emissions from CO2 from lignite account for 19
per cent of the total in 1999 and coal accounts for 19 per cent as
well. In 1990, Germany had set a target of reducing CO2
emissions by 25 per cent by 2005 and aims to double the share of
renewable energy by 2010. It has new laws on renewable energy,
ecological tax reform, Nuclear energy consensus , and a climate
protection programme. Germany is also the largest producer of wind
energy in the world. However, the mines are all set to eat into the
fertile landscape and overturn the lives of thousands of people who
seem to have no recourse against this juggernaut. Ends/.
Original article at: www.planets-voice.org/_interface/news.shtml?x=548
Reproduced with permission of planets-voice.org