Environmental hiccups dog ASM gold mining

By Wahard Betha

Though the Ministry of Mining is issuing gold mining licenses to individual ASMs and cooperatives, Mining and Trade Review has established that Government has not yet started training the ASMs on best mining practices.

In gold mining hotspots which Mining and Trade Review has visited, Miners were seen working without any protective gear.

It was also established that land segments which the miners feel have run out of gold strains are being abandoned without any rehabilitation, a development which is posing danger to the environment. 

Meanwhile, across Malawi, the Ministry of Mining has issued 66 active gold mining licenses of which eight are cooperative licenses, three licence in Machinga; two in Kasungu; one in Balaka; one in Mangochi and; one in Lilongwe district.

A licence holder in Nathenje, Lilongwe identified as Joseph Ashan confirmed to Mining & Trade Review that no government official has ever come to the area to train the ASMs.

Ashan, however, acknowledged the dangers of poor mining practices but said the ASMs are motivated by poverty so they only concentrate on making money.

He said: “Gold is now found in deeper seams and the rock is harder so we dig very deep holes without any protective gear.”

“We know it is not safe for us and our lives are in danger but we have no option.”

Ashan admitted that the environment is also at risk but stressed that some left out pits are too big for them to fill as their concentration is to make money.

But Health Expert George Jobe has described the extractive sector as one of the areas that requires much attention from stakeholders as it is associated with many hazards.

Jobe urged government and other stakeholders to conduct capacity building on issues of health, safety and environment, in mining.

He said: “It is important to deal with issues such as chemical exposure, exposure to dust and other elements to protect these ASMs.”

We have cases of Tuberculosis (TB) that can develop and in the case of gold mining where they use mercury to purify extracted gold there is a need for caution because the chemical has the potential to affect the health of people.”

Several deaths of miners in the course of work have previously been reported in ASM gold mining hotspots in Lilongwe, Kasungu and Mangochi.

Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) Programs Coordinator Joe Chabwera commented that lack of mining officers at district level is a contributing factor to the miners’ lack of awareness on Occupational Safety, Health and Environment (OSHE) issues.

Chabwera also observed that OSHE problems are not only in ASM mines but also in coal mines especially in Karonga district.

He said: “There are some companies in Karonga that have been mining for a long time but are failing to provide protective gear to their workers.”

“There are rising cases of Tuberculosis and deaths due to recklessness of the owners. The problem is that the government has not been doing inspections randomly.”

Chabwera also asked government to speed up the formalization process for ASMs in order to easily train them in good mining practices including rehabilitation of exhausted mines. 

Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Mining Christopher Banda, however, said some miners negligently ignore wearing of the protective gear when working but only wear when government officials inspect the mines.

Banda said: “The Ministry is aware of the malpractices. The miners have the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that they readily present in front of inspectors from the Ministry on inspection.

“But sometimes due to physical restraints usually heat or some other reasons, they take them off as soon as the authorities are out of the site.”

 “The Department of Mines inspects all mining licence sites to ensure compliance on OSHE in addition to all other licence obligations.”

Banda also disclosed that the Ministry intends to train licensed ASMs in gold mining hotspots in OSHE, mineral exploration and identification, and sustainable mining practices.

The principal legislation that regulates OSHE in Malawi is the Occupational Safety, Health and Welfare Act, of 1997.

OSHE Act regulates conditions of employment in workplaces with regard to safety, health and welfare of employees.

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