V. ASSESSMENT OF TRAINING AND INFORMATION NEEDS
B. Information needs
1. Information acquisition
A major constraint to the effective monitoring and enforcement of environmental legislation in Papua New Guinea is the lack of information necessary to ascertain compliance by mining companies. At present, the government agencies responsible for monitoring and enforcement rely mostly on data provided by the mining companies themselves. Generally, there is some asymmetry with respect to access to information on the part of the government vis-à-vis the mining companies. Some of the major mining companies have commissioned independent consultants to undertake studies to verify data they routinely put out. While the high reputation of some of those consultants helps to give some credibility to environmental assessments, the preferred situation would be for an independent government agency such as the Department of Environment and Conservation to undertake these functions. However, because of its limited capacity, the Department of Environment and Conservation has been forced to rely on consultants for environmental assessments.
At present, monitoring of the environmental effects of small-scale operators in the alluvial mining subsector is not be undertaken, and no information is available on the effects of that type of mining. Some alluvial mining occurs within streams or river beds. The effects include an increased rate of erosion and an increase in water turbidity. In general, alluvial miners do not undertake land restoration, which in some cases results in the alienation of potentially arable land. A further problem with alluvial mining is that the recovery of fine gold is often undertaken using mercury. The chances of poisoning are much greater when gold recovery from amalgam is undertaken near gardens or pastures.
Apart from information on the physical parameters of mining operations, there is a need for regular and systematic collection of information on the social and economic impacts of mining on the local communities, regional economies and the nation. Furthermore, SIA and social monitoring of development projects have not been carried out. The capacity of the Department of Environment and Conservation in all those areas must be strengthened.
A comprehensive inventory of data on the environmental and socio-economic parameters is also useful for development planning and environmental assessment. Primary data on natural resources and socioeconomic characteristics are useful benchmarks for assessing the impacts of the mining operations. Much resource and environmental data exists in Papua New Guinea. That information is, however, scattered throughout various organizations, government agencies, NGOs, museums and the universities. Some of the data have been published; other data are still unpublished or only available overseas.
A decentralized resource and environmental data system, referred to as the Papua New Guinea Resource Information System (Papua New GuineaRIS) is being developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization of Australia. The system has already been used to undertake rapid environmental appraisals for the Papua New Guinea Tropical Forestry Action Plan.
Asafu-Adjaye (1993 and 1994) has reviewed the feasibility of establishing an environmental and natural resource accounting system for Papua New Guinea. Such a system could assist in incorporating environmental concerns into policy-making. He concluded that while the basic elements of such a system existed (e.g., Papua New GuineaRIS), there was still a considerable amount of work to be done before it could become fully operational. Asafu-Adjaye identified the needs in three areas: awareness, training, and financial resources. government officials and the general public need to be made aware of the need to account for the environment in policy issues. Government officials need to be retrained in the collection, interpretation and dissemination of environmental and socio-economic data. But because primary environmental and socio-economic data collection is expensive and time-consuming, the government needs to allocate more financial resources to such activities.
Once environmental, natural resources and socio-economic data have been collected, that data must be made available on a timely basis in order to provide for multiple use; in addition, the data must be stored in such a way that they will be easily available for future use. Furthermore, as indicated above, some data need to be collected on a regular basis. Therefore, in-house databases need to be established within the Department of Environment and Conservation and NPO. The database housed within NPO or the National Statistics Office (NSO) could include the environmental and natural resource accounting system and would be linked to Papua New GuineaRIS.