By Zulfah Namatovu
Mercury is known for recovering minute pieces of gold that is mixed in soil and sediments. These two combine together to form an amalgam of which gold is then extracted by vaporizing the mercury.
In Uganda the use of mercury by artisanal gold miners is leading to the pollution of the environment and dangerously of the hands of the miner plus many other associated ailments.
A project undertaken by the government of Uganda and supported by international organizations is now -targeting to improve a more responsible artisanal gold mining sector country wide. In addition , new Mining and Minerals Act 2022 which was accented to by President Yoweri Museven recently , has banned and criminalized the use of mercury in mining.
This means that government is now taken the approach of “phase down and phase out” to eliminate the use of mercury in the mining sector . The Minerals sector is being supervised under the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development Led by Hon. Ruth Nankabirwa and State Minister Hon. Lokeris . The technocal wing is led by the Permanent Secretary Eng. Irene Batebe.
Many miners use mercury and other chemicals to separate gold from the soils but then pour the residues in the water sources.
‘’Through planet GOLD Uganda project, miners will be given new options and taught new methods for healthy mining and protect the environmental plus other social challenges in the sector. We are encouraging the switch to more responsible gold mining practices’’ Ludovic Bernaudat head of UNEP’s GEF chemicals said .
This was at a two day -4th annual ASM conference and launch of the great lakes mining and energy transition under the theme: ”Our shared responsibility in shaping the green energy transition and climate change adaptation” in Kampala.
The Conference was organised and sponsored among others by the Africa Center for Energy and Minerals Policy (ACEMP) led by the Executive Director Mr. Don Bwesigye Binyina and Mr. Chris Musiime , the Program Director.
‘’Mercury has more negative health effects on young children and unborn babies like brain damage, in grown-ups muscles get affected and damage is done to the central nervous system. It is not easy to be treated or got out of the body system and these effects are long term.,’’ Dr. Benjamin Wabwiire told the participants .
Over 73 percent of Uganda’s artisanal gold is produced using mercury bringing in about 15 tons of mercury every year.
Mercury contaminates the soil, air and water. It is very dangerous to miners and other people that get in contact with it mostly when vaporized among children and pregnant women yet it’s the cheapest and more available.
‘’Mercury is the cheapest chemical used in gold mining and more available though it seem to be the deadliest chemical used . Government should therefore reduce the prices and taxes on other chemicals that can be used in place of mercury’’ Joshua Rukundo senior project officer SOLIDARIDAD stated . With the growth of the artisanal mining sector over the past decade, Uganda has had to change its legal framework to keep up with the changing context of the mining sector.
‘’ The Mining and Minerals act 2022 provides the opportunity to support responsible development in the sector, including gazetting of mining sites and banning of the dangerous chemicals like mercury’’ Agnes Alaba, Acting Director of the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM).
The participants (Artisanal miners) have called on government to include them in the emyoga and Palish Development Model progams to supplement their household incomes. They also stated that the ban on mercury should cut across all other sector and not be selective targeting only miners .
They hailed the NEMA’s Ms. Ann Nakafero for her work towards having the mining sector to be compliant with all the environmental requirements .
John Bosco Bukya- the Chairman of the Uganda Artisanal And Small scale Miners Association (UGAASM) called for value addition value addition in the sector and pledged that next year there will be an exhibition of gold products produced by gold miners. He said the association will also look into the law for bulk procurement of processing materials for mining and encouraged the members to form Saccos and Village Saving Schemes to save and invest.
While closing the conference , Ms.F. Achan, Country Manager Solidaridad underscored the need to bring more miners on board , formalization the mining businesses at the local level for the miners to be empowered in securing partnerships and funding .
She called for further legal review to make the legal framework more inclusive to have the voices of the small scale miners heard and promised that at Solidadad, “we shall continue to support local small scale miners to ensure responsible mining and bring women on board -give them a revolving fund . This is intended to have a fair value distribution and ensure a sustainable minerals sector.”