The World Bank released a new survey today pointing to strong public support of mining, oil and gas projects in resource-rich countries around the world.
But the survey – which has been well received by industry – may have a major flaw: it was conducted entirely online. Given that 60 percent of the world’s population has no Internet access, rising to 84 percent in Africa, the results may not reflect experiences of those directly affected by mining, including thousands forced to make way for mining activity.
The World Bank’s “Extractive Industries Public Perceptions Survey” questioned residents of 14 resource-rich countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas on the benefits and drawbacks of mining and oil and gas production. The survey appeared before a random selection of Internet users when they mistyped a URL.
By using an online survey, the World Bank said it was able to quickly collect large amounts of information and reach Internet users who do not usually think about extractive industries.
Of the 16,000 respondents, 63 percent believe the mining industry has a positive impact on their country. Fewer than one in four saw any problems at all. When the survey asked about impacts on people’s own lives, nearly half of the respondents answered favorably while one in five saw it as negative.
“A lot of industry partners have been surprised because they thought it would be more negative,” said Felipe Estefan, open government specialist at the World Bank who has shared early results with industry, civil society and government representatives. “They [in industry] thought it would be scarier than it turned out it be”.
The lowest level of opposition to mining came from Mozambique where 3 percent of respondents – 33 people – felt that mining had a “very negative” impact on their lives.
The survey’s cheery spin paints a different picture to what Human Rights Watch’s Nisha Varia recently saw in the country. Varia authored a 2013 report on mining communities in Tete, Mozambique’s busiest mining region. Nearly 2,500 Mozambicans may be resettled due to mining projects, and those already forced to leave their homes have complained of substandard replacement homes and inadequate compensation.
Just four of the 1155 respondents to the World Bank’s survey in Mozambique came from Tete.
“There is a difference between the perception of the general population and those directly affected by those projects, including those who are forcibly resettled,” said Varia.
“I think it’s pretty arguable that these results are not representative of what is happening,” said Varia. “Many parts of the country remain rural and have little access to electricity – let alone to the Internet.”
The International Telecommunications Union reports that 4.85 percent of Mozambicans used the Internet in 2012. Yet 30 percent of Mozambican respondents in the World Bank’s survey said they received information about the oil and gas industry online.
The same story is true in Zambia, says Pamela Chisanga, Director of Action Aid Zambia. Of Zambian respondents, 58 percent thought favorably of mining and 9 percent considered it in negative terms, according to the survey.
“Very few people living around mines have access to the Internet,” said Chisanga. “If we are talking about people who have been displaced or have had to change their means of survival because of the mining activity, they would not have access to the Internet.”
“Every survey methodology has its limitations and we are keenly aware of this one,” said the World Bank’s Estefan. Admitting that “we did not do enough thinking about” clarifying the drawbacks of an online survey for those interpreting the data, the Bank said it would likely update the website before publication to reflect the survey’s limited sample.
“We don’t seek to make it seem representative but we seek to complement this with other methods,” said Estefan, pointing to other “incredibly valuable” surveys that use more detailed techniques of capturing public opinion.
The Extractive Industries Public Perceptions Survey will now be used as part of the Bank’s ongoing transparency and accountability work.
Editor's note – a quote by Nisha Varia has been modified at her request to provide more clarity. The original quote, "I think it's pretty arguable that any results are represendative of what is happening" has been amended to "I think it's pretty arguable that these results are not representative of what is happening."
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