Politics of Poverty

Bizarre methodology skews World Bank survey on oil, mining “perceptions”

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Many of the 1,429 households resettled to make way for Vale and Rio Tinto’s international coal mining operations in Tete province, Mozambique received land with poor access to water and limited productivity. The farmland provided to Senolia S. (pictured), upon her resettlement to Cateme, was reclaimed by its original cultivators. She did not receive any replacement land or additional assistance and finally scraped enough money together to rent a plot of rocky, untilled land. Photo: Samer Muscati / Human Rights Watch

Results of a World Bank Institute survey on public perceptions of extractive industries in developing countries are practically useless to understanding what communities directly affected by mining and oil operations actually think.

The results of a new World Bank-sponsored survey say that “a clear majority of responses believe that mining and oil/gas are positively impacting their country.”

It always pays to look at the methodology and underlying data sets.

In January the World Bank Institute (WBI) Governance for Extractive Industries Program commissioned an “Extractive Industries Public Perceptions Survey,” the results of which have just been published. The survey purports to provide “unique insights into people’s perceptions of the contributions of the extractive industries to their country’s development, their views on the availability and reliability of information, and their knowledge of the sector.”

But a huge methodological problem means that those most impacted by these projects are least represented in the survey.

The WBI says that the survey employs an “innovative nano survey approach” described as an Internet-based technology that extends a brief survey to a random sampling of respondents. Of the 14 countries surveyed, seven are in sub-Saharan Africa where Internet access is quite limited, especially in the rural areas affected by mining. The survey report does note that “responses are limited to those with internet access, typically a more urban and general public and not targeted to communities surrounding mining or oil/gas development” but then goes on to report findings as if they were meaningful, despite the admitted digital divide that plagues their results.

In Mozambique, where only 4.3 percent of the total population even has Internet access, 1155 people took the WBI survey. Exactly four people surveyed were from Tete, the province that has been the site of large-scale coal mining operations that have resettled communities! Last year Human Rights Watch report documented the plight of 1,429 households moved to make way for mining projects by Vale and Rio Tinto. Around 59% of the WBI survey respondents were based in Maputo, the capital, and are among those more likely to see benefits and not costs of resource extraction.

Also of note, only 30 percent of the Mozambican respondents were women, even though research has shown that women often disproportionally bear the brunt of the costs of mining. The WBI survey also noted that 47 percent of respondents thought that mining’s impact on the environment was “negative” or “very negative” – a result that certainly would’ve been much higher if more people directly affected by mining had participated.

In Ghana, 98 percent (!) of those responding to the WBI mining survey were from Accra, the capital. The “perceptions” about mining of only 39 people from regions with significant mining operations were included. In the WBI oil survey, exactly three people responding were from the Western Region where the Jubilee oil discovery is! Oxfam partners such as Friends of the Nation, WACAM, the Center for Public Interest Law, and others have been working with local communities affected by mining – from human rights violations to loss and land and livelihoods – and their voices are nowhere to be found in this survey.

One useful bit of information from the WBI survey in Ghana is that when asked “Does your government publish how much money it collects from oil and gas companies?” only 31 percent accurately answered “yes.” The Ghanaian government does, in fact, publish what they receive from oil companies, down to the dollar and barrel on a quarterly basis. This shows that the government and others need to do a better job spreading the word about these important disclosures.

The World Bank may be happy to highlight these so-called positive public perceptions about oil, gas and mining. The WBI says “the results of this survey should inform discussions about ongoing efforts to better govern the extractive industries and make the sector more transparent and accountable.” The results, though, are practically useless to understanding what communities directly affected by mining and oil operations actually think. Actually talking – and listening – to those people must inform the work of donors as they design their programs in the sector.

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