Remembering Robert Moran

May 23, 2017

Last week, our friend the American hydrogeologist and geochemist Robert Moran lost his life in a tragic car accident. His wife was severely injured. He was well-known and respected for his profound knowledge of, and experience in, water issues in the mining sector.

Bob worked with PAX in Colombia during the last five years on several projects. His expertise, insights and commitment enabled vulnerable communities facing the prospect of a mine in their backyard or dealing with the impacts of an existing mine, to level the playing field with powerful corporate parties and authorities.

There are many experienced and knowledgeable water experts in the world, but very few are capable of looking beyond the data. “Let’s look at the broader picture” was one of his typical phrases when his interlocutors lost themselves in the details and fragmented approaches. Familiar with the complete life cycle of mines, he insisted on long term views and emphasized the need for independently gathered base line data. In order help local farmers understand the importance of good and independent information, he liked to paraphrase Mark Twain: “a mine is a hole in the ground with a liar standing next to it.” Too often, he saw uninformed communities enter into an unequal dialogue with far reaching consequences.

There are many good water experts, but they rarely combine their expertise with political instincts. Bob did. “Just follow the water and you will get to the money and the power,” he used to say. This was where we found ourselves on common ground. Clean water and fertile land have become scarce in many parts of the world and are therefore a source of social conflicts that can become violent. This is especially so when lucrative mining projects and rural communities have to compete over these natural resources.

When he started his career 40 years ago, Bob worked as a government expert and corporate consultant. He got to know corporate and governmental strategies inside out. This experience served him well once he decided to place his expertise in the service of communities. One penetrating question from Bob was usually enough to cut through a company’s rhetoric or to highlight the need for regulation and public oversight.

What remains are the good memories of his characteristic sense of humour, his often surprising perceptions and witty life lessons. One day, we were making our way up a mountain to a drilling platform in the heart of the Colombian Andes and were huffing and puffing from the exertion. He said half-jokingly and half-seriously to me, “When I was fifty, I still thought I would be immortal. Now I know better.”  For many communities in mining areas around the world, his support and commitment will have a lasting mark on their future.

— Marianne Moor 

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