Indonesia: Preventing the looming Dairi Prima Mineral mine disaster

Dairi Prima Mineral zinc mine


Dairi Prima Mineral's proposed zinc mine is situated in one of the most earthquake-prone regions of the world. When local communities heard of the construction plans, including for a tailings dam that would store toxic waste upstream from their villages, they were understandably very concerned. Feeling that they had been kept in the dark by the authorities, the community members decided to find other ways to get informed and take action to prevent disaster. Inclusive Development International has helped them obtain independent expert analysis of the risks of the mine and pursue accountability through the International Finance Corporation’s complaint mechanism and the Indonesian courts.


Location:Indonesia – North Sumatra
ProjectZinc Mine
Companies: Dairi Prima Mineral, China Nonferrous Metal Industry’s Foreign Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd. and Bumi Resources Minerals
Key concerns:


·      High risk of a catastrophic tailings dam failure

·      Human safety

·      Environmental damage

·      Population displacement

·      Lack of information, community consultation and consent

Community goals:·      Meaningful consultation on an independent and robust environmental and social impact assessment.

·      Cancellation of the project unless it meets international environmental and safety standards

Key investors and financiers:Dairi Prima Mineral reported that it expected to raise 80% of the mine’s cost (approximately $366 million) through project loans. Carren Holdings Corporation Limited, a company registered in Hong Kong and fully owned by the Chinese state-owned investment company CNIC Corporation Limited (國新國際投資有限公司), will provide a $245 million loan. CNIC Corporation is ultimately controlled by the Chinese state-owned investment holding company China Reform Holdings Corporation (中国国新控股有限责任公司).
Our partners:BAKUMSU Association, Yayasan Diakonia Pelangi Kasih (YDPK), Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM) and Petrasa

Residents of the 11 villages downstream from the Dairi Prima Mineral project have many questions and concerns about the planned zinc mine in an area that seismic experts have described as one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world.

The tailings dam that is proposed to store the mine’s toxic waste will sit above the complex of faults that produced the 9.1-magnitude earthquake that caused the 2004 tsunami. The area is also prone to torrential rainfall and landslides, making the ground particularly unstable.

Richard Meehan, a Stanford University engineer who has studied dams for more than 40 years, has examined the project and sees a disaster waiting to happen. Another strong earthquake, which he said is almost certain to occur, could unleash more than 1 million tons of mud and toxic waste on the nearby village of Sopokomil, according to computer modeling.

The risk of a catastrophic dam failure would continue to pose a threat to local communities in perpetuity, long after the mine is closed.

Frustrated at the lack of consultation and information coming from the company and the government, the Toba and Pak-pak communities reached out to Indonesian and international organizations with their concerns about the impact the mine would have on their way of life and the environment on which they depend.

In 2019, investment chain analysis identified that the International Finance Corporation (IFC) was indirectly backing Dairi Prima Mineral through its equity investment in Postal Savings Bank of China. This enabled the communities to file a complaint to the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), which led to a compliance appraisal completed in June 2022. The appraisal concluded that the mine and tailings dam pose an “extreme” risk to the environment and local communities. The Ombudsman report notes that a tailings dam failure “could result in significant and potentially irreversible impacts on the lives and livelihoods of several thousand villagers located downstream.”

Using the CAO appraisal report as evidence, local communities successfully challenged in the Jakarta Administrative Court an environmental permit that had been granted to DPM in 2022. DPM and the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry successfully appealed that court decision at the High Court in 2023. Seeing that the High Court decision lacked rigor and respect for human rights laws, the communities have submitted a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court to have the High Court decision overturned and their initial victory upheld. The case remains in process pending a decision by the bench of Indonesia’s highest court.

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The Toba and Pak-pak communities enlisted the help of a coalition of Indonesian NGOs and Inclusive Development International to better understand the risks posed by the proposed mine and protect their way of life and the environment they depend on.

In 2019, Bakumsu and YDPK asked Inclusive Development International to research the investors behind the Dairi Prima Mineral mine and help the communities communicate their concerns to these actors.

We also helped the communities to engage independent technical experts, including world-renowned seismic risk expert Richard Meehan and expert on lead-zinc mine environmental issues Steve Emerman, to assess the project’s risks and the developer’s proposed mitigation measures. Sub-titled video presentations from community representatives, NGOs and technical experts discussing their findings are available here.

Our investment chain analysis found that the IFC was indirectly backing the mine through its equity investment in Postal Savings Bank of China, a key financier of the project’s parent company. Pointing to this financial relationship, local communities filed a complaint in October 2019 with the IFC’s accountability mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO).

The complainants argued that the Indigenous communities downstream of the mine have not been adequately consulted about the project, much less provided their free, prior, and informed consent, consistent with IFC Performance Standard 7. They also expressed their concerns about the environmental and social risks of the project, including the high risk of a catastrophic tailings dam failure.

In March 2020, the CAO accepted the complaint—the first ever involving a Chinese financial intermediary. After an unusually lengthy delay in the process, the mechanism finally published a compliance appraisal in June 2022, concluding that the mine and tailings dam pose “extreme” risks. By this time, however, Dairi Prima Mineral had ended its financial relationship with the IFC intermediary Postal Savings Bank of China. Unfortunately, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman decided not to pursue a full compliance investigation of IFC’s conduct in relation to the investment citing the severed financial links.     

In August 2022, the Ministry of Environment in Indonesia granted the necessary environmental permit to Dairi Prima Mineral without notifying affected communities or actively publicizing the decision. In response, a women-led group of local farmers challenged the permit approval in a Jakarta administrative court in February 2023, utilizing the CAO appraisal report and the expert analysis provided as evidence.

In July 2023, the Administrative Court ruled in favor of the local community representatives. The court acknowledged in its ruling that current plans for further construction of the mine violate existing regulations and pose a threat to the environment and local people. It also acknowledged that consultation with local communities was below the legal standard required for the award of an Environmental Permit granting the project permission to proceed.

Since then, however, the defendants—including Dairi Prima Mineral and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry—appealed the decision to the High Court. The High Court ruled in their favor, but in a way that the lawyers for communities said failed to recognize human rights laws. The communities have now appealed to the Supreme Court.

As Indonesia tries to position itself as a climate leader, the implications of the decision extend well beyond this individual case.



Dairi Prima Mineral is planning to build an underground mine to commercially extract zinc, lead and silver ore in a mountainous area of North Sumatra, Indonesia. Zinc will be the focus of the mine.

Dairi Prima Mineral is an Indonesian joint venture between the Beijing-based mining conglomerate China Nonferrous Metal Industry’s Foreign Engineering and Construction Co., Ltd. (NFC) and Bumi Resources Minerals, a subsidiary of the Indonesian coal-mining giant Bumi Resources.

Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Sinosure previously expressed an interest in the project, but the developers did not secure financing from them. In April 2024, the parent company of Dairi Prima Minerals disclosed that Carren Holdings Corporation Limited will provide a loan of US$245 million for the development of the project. Carren Holdings is a Hong Kong registered investment firm which is ultimately controlled by China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC), a government agency, through the state-owned investment holding company China Reform Holdings Corporation (中国国新控股有限责任公司) and its subsidiary CNIC Corporation Limited (國新國際投資有限公司).

The concession area contains approximately 5% of the world’s zinc reserves. The project dates from 1998, when Dairi Prima Mineral received permission from the Indonesian government to explore for metals in a 27,420-hectare area. The project is expected to cost $453 million. Mining is anticipated to begin 42 months after all of the finance and insurance is secured. According to a 2019 draft Environmental Impact Assessment Addendum, the mine life will be 10 years.

Dairi Prima Mineral proposes to use underground mining techniques to extract the ore and bring it to the surface. Ore would then be concentrated at a facility to be constructed adjacent to the mine. Concentrated ore would likely be shipped to China, where it would be refined and used in a variety of consumer and industrial goods, especially cars.

NFC has previously held supply agreements with major manufacturers. If the Dairi Prima Mineral mine becomes operational, at least some of the zinc it mines is likely to end up in automobiles and other products sold around the world. With new due diligence legislation imminent across Europe, this could pose a major legal compliance risk to companies with global supply chains.

Dairi Prima Mineral claims that most of the waste from the mine will be mixed with cement and injected back underground; the remaining millions of cubic meters of toxic waste would be stored in a tailings dam that the company says will be located 2 kilometers from the mine, behind a dam wall, initially 25 meters high. If not properly built and maintained, tailings ponds can fail, releasing toxic waste into the environment. Even those claiming to incorporate more modern safety measures have a high failure rate (2 to 5 per year globally).

A major issue with the proposed tailings dam is its location. An expert report on the seismic risks posed by the Dairi Prima Mineral project concluded that the “Dairi Mine is located in one of the highest risk areas in the world,” lying near the Sumatra subduction megathrust, which in 2004 and 2005 produced earthquakes of magnitude 9 and 8+ respectively. The mine site is also only 15 kilometers from the Great Sumatra fault which produces long duration or repeated earthquakes, notorious for destroying civil structures like tailings dams (especially “wet tailings”, like those that would be produced in Dairi). This, combined with the area’s very heavy annual rainfall, led the study’s author to predict that “within a few decades after the ‘closure’ of the deposit” an earthquake-induced sudden failure of the tailings dam would send “a wave of liquid mud downstream to the north.”

The social and environmental impact of a collapse could be catastrophic. Dam collapses in other areas of the world–even without such high earthquake risk–have destroyed villages, killed hundreds of people, and poisoned the environment for generations. There are approximately 11 villages around or downstream from the proposed Dairi Prima Mineral mine.

Lead-zinc mines like that of Dairi Prima Mineral are some of the most environmentally problematic mines in the world. The mine will extract sulfide ore, which can form sulfuric acid when reacting with water and oxygen. Acidic conditions can lead to acid mine drainage where heavy metals become dissolved in water and then spread throughout the water system.

In addition to the waste and water issues, the Dairi Prima Mineral mine is expected to have impacts from dust and from increased heavy traffic passing through villages and towns.

Responsible investors should contact Inclusive Development International for further information. 

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