‘Mercury ban will undermine small-scale mining’

SMALL-SCALE miners have expressed concern that the proposed ban of mercury in all industrial uses, including gold processing, will undermine the viability of the sector.

Report by Tarisai Mandizha

Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that accumulates as methyl mercury in the environment and in the bodies of marine animals.

The substance causes developmental problems and physical deformities in humans and also affects animals’ ability to reproduce.

Last month, government representatives from more than 140 countries, including Zimbabwe, met in Switzerland and agreed to sign a mercury treaty later this year as part of global fight against pollution.

Zimbabwe Artisanal and Small-scale for Sustainable Mining Council (ZASMC) president Walter Takavarasha told NewsDay last week that the treaty would affect the operations of more than 500 000 people.

He said small-scale miners were making use of mercury in gold processing as it was a simple and affordable method to extract the precious mineral.

“Now that there is a global commitment to sign a mercury treaty, there should also be new funding commitments from donor agencies and governments to support capacity-building, especially to support artisanal and small-scale gold miners,” Takavarasha said.

He, however, said the impact of the global treaty was still not clear.

Takavarasha said more than 100 million people around the world depended on the use of mercury for gold extraction.

University of Edinburgh lecturer in international development Samuel Spiegel said the Mines and Mining Development ministry teamed up with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation between 2005 and 2007 to implement a Global Mercury Project to train mining communities in the Kadoma-Chakari areas.

“The reports from these pilot projects indicated that there are no simple technology alternatives that can replace mercury amalgamation because the alternatives are usually too expensive and unaffordable for artisanal and small-scale miners,” he said.

Spiegel said the text of the global treaty stipulated that countries where small-scale gold mining takes place would develop national strategic plans on mercury and small-scale gold mining and submit them to the global secretariat of the treaty.

He said the treaty manuscript leaves it to the countries themselves to articulate the specific strategies and priorities for reducing mercury use.

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