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Emiral Resources: ‘A Safety and Sustainability Responsibility’

Published by , Editor
Global Mining Review,

Boris Ivanov, Founder, Emiral Resources, discusses how mining companies have a responsibility to steer artisanal mining towards safer processes.

An important appendage to any discussion about African mining invariably involves the presence and contribution of artisanal and small scale mining. Over 60 million people depend on artisanal mining to earn their bread according to a 2019 estimate from the World Bank. Though artisanal mining remains a source of rapid profits and continues to attract a steady stream of workers, especially in developing countries, it can also result in several harmful effects, including environmental degradation, child labour and poor health and safety standards. Dangers include inhalation of toxic substances like mercury, fumes from explosive blasts, mining pit collapses, and falls.

Gold mining is the leading commodity when it comes to artisanal mining, with the informal sector extracting almost 20% of the global gold supply.

Countries like Sudan and Ghana, with significant gold mining industries, have seen a proliferation of artisanal gold mining, with, according to some estimates, more than 80% of all gold extracted in Sudan coming from artisanal sources while artisanal miners in Ghana contribute 35% of the country’s total gold output and make up more than 60% of the country’s mining workforce.

However, while artisanal gold mining is widespread, it is also a very dangerous occupation with mining accidents common in unregulated mines across sub-Saharan Africa. Reliance on a largely unskilled workforce using rudimentary and unsafe practices to extract and filter gold results in poor environmental and health conditions. Chief among them is the uncontrolled use of mercury in the refining process, particularly relevant in the African context, with unrestricted and unsafe usage resulting in significant health risks that include memory loss, kidney malfunction, acute anaemia, and respiratory diseases.

Another dimension of traditional mining is its influence on the local political and security situation. Proceeds from artisanal gold trading, that are hard to control and account for, could end up in the hands of various armed extremist movements, who challenge the already fragile social peace and political stability in many regions of the world.

With gold prices remaining high amid weakened economies and fears of a global recession, more people are turning to illegal or unregulated mining to survive. For many individuals, this activity presents the only opportunity for employment and a path out of poverty. Despite the massive potential of the industry, ASM remains at the edge of poverty alleviation strategies and development policies.

Several African countries are proactively trying to tackle these issues and co-exist with artisanal mining operations by providing artisanal miners with safe working conditions, timely healthcare solutions and support.

This co-existence can be a boon since mining companies have the financial and logistical power to bring about positive change through educational programmes, incentives (including financial), provision of better working conditions, and training on best practices. Training should also include adopting more environment-friendly mining methods and technologies to improve mining efficiencies. Measures that encourage rather than coerce better ways of mining without affecting individuals’ pay will be better received by ASM communities.

To avoid mercury poisoning from the refinery process, mining companies should pay the market rate to artisanal miners for the product and refine the raw product themselves given they have the tools and know how to do so safely.

Several African countries are also enacting legislation to protect and formalise the artisanal mining sector. It is vital that mining companies assume responsibility for communicating changes and benefits in and of legislation to artisanal miners, amplify outreach, and help steer artisanal mining towards a more sustainable and safer future. There have already been some examples of efficient collaboration between mainstream mining businesses and the artisanal mining sector. Installation of low-cost winches to transport ore have significantly brought down injuries and fatalities in Rwanda’s tin and tantalum mines, have significantly improved working conditions, and boosted productivity. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Mutoshi cobalt mine has seen positive collaboration between mainstream and artisanal mining, with the former providing onsite healthcare, protective equipment, and creating a safe and exclusive working zone for artisanal miners.

Vitally, mining businesses need to take the lead on promoting cleaner and safer alternatives for the refining process. While commercial considerations and existing governmental regulations often limit the scope of positive measures, we at Emiral attempt to provide solutions on a local scale. With the consent and support of the authorities, Emiral has offered to purchase gold-bearing rock from the artisanal miners at our sites offering market rates, completely eliminating the need for artisanal miners to use polluting and dangerous mercury extraction methods. A gold-testing lab has also been made available to local artisanal miners, who bring in their finds and immediately learn their gold content. Emiral has also provided shipments of water and medical check-ups at remote desert locations, ensuring safer working conditions for traditional miners.

It is important to understand that artisanal mining is a source of employment for millions of people across the world, and an effective tool to bring about social and economic development. It is in governmental and private business’ interests to put their energies behind formalising this sector to help it make sustainable and safe. Eradicating the negative side-effects while leveraging the economic potential of ASM is a fragile undertaking and will require a strong policy framework and cooperation from key stakeholders including mining communities, mining companies, governments, and development organisations.

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African mining news