Rio Tinto announced this week its intention to plough ahead with plans for a huge titanium dioxide mine in Madagascar.

Friends of the Earth, whose former campaigns director died of heat stroke in the island’s forests while investigating proposals for the mine, have condemned the controversial development claiming it will damage Madagascar’s unique biodiversity and bring little benefit to local people.

But the Rio Tinto has said the $775 million project will be a model of the contribution mining can make to a community and environment.

Leigh Clifford, chief executive of Rio Tinto, said: “We have already demonstrated that we are committed to developing the project in a manner consistent with the principles of sustainable development.

“Indeed, it will be a model of the contribution mining can make through the successful integration of financial, environmental and community objectives.”

The project would involve removing coastal forests and building a deep sea port near the town of Fort Dauphin.

Titanium dioxide is used as a white pigment in the paint, plastics and paper industries.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, with most of the population surviving on less than $1 per day, and it has seen little investment from the outside world over the years.

Rio Tinto claims its mine and the development of the port will provide a welcome economic boost to the country, while FoE claims it is exploiting the developing world.

Tony Juniper, the pressure group’s executive director, said: “This is a very sad day and very bad news for the people of Madagascar.

“This mine will not solve the terrible problems of poverty on the island,
but will damage its precious biodiversity.

“Rio Tinto is exploiting natural resources in the developing world and once again, it is the local people who will pay the price.

“It is time international laws were introduced to protect the interests of people and the environment.

“It is clear that companies cannot be trusted to do so.”

By Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie