Cholera threat looms in ASM gold mining hotspots

By Chrissy Fereciah Nkumba

There is danger of the deadly cholera outbreak which has claimed more than a thousand lives of Malawians hitting Malawi’s Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) gold mining hotspots, which are attracting hundreds of miners despite very poor hygienic conditions.

Mining & Trade Review visits to ASM gold mining hotspots such as Chiwamba, Lundu and Matapila in Lilongwe; Dwangwa River area in Kasungu and Machinga discovered that there is lack of potable water and toilets in these hotspots.

The miners, therefore, use the same rivers in which they wash soils in search of gold grains to source drinking water and also answer the call of nature.

Food markets have developed in the ASM hotspots despite this shortage of safe water.

When contacted to comment on the situation, an umbrella body for civil society organizations working in the extractives sector, the Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN), challenged government to put in place measures that will regulate ASM activities to control the possible outbreak of cholera in the hotspots.

NRJN National Coordinator Kennedy Rashid said if proper measures are put in place, spread of cholera in ASM hotspots could be controlled expressing concern that statistics are already showing that in the wake of the raging pandemic, cholera infection figures in such spots are already soaring.

“It is the responsibility of the state to see to it that its citizens are safe and protected regardless of the context. ASMs need to be empowered to start making responsible decisions when conducting mining activities to ensure that their lives are protected,” Rashid said.

Rashid also said government needs to support the Department of Mines with both financial and technical assistance to conduct regular inspections of ASM sites to ensure responsible mining and adherence to occupational, safety and health standards.

He said on its part NRJN has been advancing Occupational Safety and Health standards and Responsible Mining in the ASM sector in Mangochi, Nkhatabay, Kasungu, Chikwawa, Lilongwe and Karonga through formalization drive trainings under the Strengthening Civil Society support project with funding from Norwegian Church Aid-Dan Church Aid

“We are planning to work in partnership with the Department of Mines to ensure that there are synergies built in the sector.

Rashid also expressed concern over ASMs continued use of mercury in processing gold ores saying it is proliferating because of lack of financial and technical support by government to the Department of Mines to conduct regular inspections and extension services as contained in the Mines and Minerals Policy and the Mines and Minerals Act.

“There is a need to have extension services in the local Communities and, a need to conduct regular inspections of the mining activities to which government does not invest in but rather it seeks to get revenues from the sector,” he said.

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