Contrary to the belief that gold is a thing of beauty to be desired for its ornamental value, gold mining is also the cause of several deaths across Nigeria, Ruth Tene Natsa looks at the challenges and solutions to gold mining in Nigeria.
In 2009,illegal gold mining activities was blamed for the deaths of over 400 children,caused brain damage of several others and wasted the pregnancies of many others.
In May 2015, 28 children were also alleged to have died as a result of exposure to lead poisoning as a result of gold mining in Niger state.
This is aside the millions of Naira it has cost the federal government to treat victims, re mediate environment and teach safer mining in Zamfara state.
The reason for the massive lives waste and money spent was blamed on the unsafe mining methods used by illegal miners,who said “nothing is going to stop us from mining because that is the only livelihood weknow”.
Luba, a native of Zamfara, lost a daughter and an unborn child to the scourge. Narrating her story, she said, “Hadiza (her daughter) suddenly started feeling feverish and ill. Water was used to reduce her body temperature. Immediately the water touched her body, she started jerking and died shortly after. I got pregnant again and on the ninth month of my pregnancy when I was about to give birth, I started bleeding. There was so much blood flow. I was taken to the hospital and it was a hard process removing the baby. After an arduous process, they (the medical personnel) got the baby out but it was a stillborn. They said it was as a result of lead-poisoning”.
These affected children got exposed to the toxic lead-particles during the gold mining process because the artisanal miners who were not enlightened, were ignorant of the fact that the toxic materials released into the environment during the processing of the mineral stones, pose health risks to them, their families and surrounding communities.
Engr. Suleiman of the Zamfara State Ministry of Environment and Solid Minerals, explained the artisanal mining process which exposed the families in the affected communities to lead-poisoning. According to him, “Gold is very precious and expensive. Hence, people in remote areas, mined gold from the field and took it to their homes to extract the gold from the rock. During the extraction, the lead-poisoning started. In extracting, you need to crush the rock, wash and grind. In that process, a lot of children get involved. As the grinding takes place inside the house, the dust will be allover the house and that contaminates the environment. Continuous work in that house, makes it unsafe for children to play.”
Following the death of about 400 children, it became glaring to the miners, the dangers they were exposed to, which they hitherto had no idea of before venturing into the gold-mining practice. Alhaji Adamu, a local miner, stated that, “we have confirmed that lead poisoning has affected the lives of our children. Children become restless and jerk seriously or look like they have polio. And we the older ones, can go impotent or have heart and liver diseases, when we inhale too much of the dust particles”.
However, despite the negative impacts of lead-poisoning associated with gold-mining, the locals involved in it expressed no intention of quitting the practice. Many of them described gold-mining as the source of their livelihoods which they had to resort to, in the face of unemployment, hunger and hardship. Other factors that encouraged them to engage in gold-mining, is the lack of organisation and insufficient regulations in the sector.
Sequel to the deaths recorded in 2010, the federal and state governments introduced to the miners, a safer method of processing the mineralstones to access gold. Wet-milling machines were installed by the government in order to reduce the amount of dust emanating into the atmosphere during the crushing and grinding of the stones.
The Ministry of Lands and Mining organised most of the local miners into mining cooperatives. The wet-milling machines could be accessed by miners who were registered with a cooperative.
Salihu, a young local miner, noted that, “honestly, this work (gold-mining) is better than farm work. Some family members are still into farm work, and I am here mining gold. This is serious progress for me.
So I want the government to help us with more wet-milling machines which will help us safely extract the gold”.
The dangers in the mining occupation are now, to a better extent, more known by the local artisans. Some of them have fallen into the pits and lost their lives, while some others were buried alive inside a pit that suddenly collapsed while they were inside.
Another local miner, Montari, while pointing to a nearby pit, revealed that, “there are over 10 people inside this pit. They are there working because that is where their source of food is. The pit could be eight-feet deep or less. A few weeks ago, a pit caved in on three local miners. They couldn’t be dug out because that place was very deep – about 18 feet. Their bodies were left there, underneath.” When asked how much he earned from gold-mining, Montari maintained that depending on the outcome of the mining, he could earn between 4,000 and 100,000 nairadaily.
In consideration of the difficulties and hazards encountered by the local miners, it is imperative for the state and local governments in Zamfara, to organise awareness campaigns to promote community economic diversification, by encouraging some of the adults and youth to embrace agriculture and other legitimate means of livelihood. The federal government should champion the cause of massive advocacy campaigns to enlighten the local miners on international best standards for safe mining operations. The necessary equipment needed such as the wet-milling machines, Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), et al, should also be made readily available in sufficient numbers, to the artisans.
The current dearth of effective policies and regulations for artisanal miners, should be reversed by a holistic overhauling of the solid minerals sector, in order to replace the redundant system with innovative ideas, and stringent regulations.
Source : Leadership