Rito Nakong of Rupa Sub County, Moroto District, Separating Gold from the sand Using Water without any protective gear
Every morning, 46-year old Rita Nakong of Rupa Sub-country, Moroto district treks the 1 mile journey to scavenge for traces of gold sand in gaping pits that dot the area. She ignores the risks of working without protective gear in these merciless, some 15-20 feet deep pits. She leaves at her mud and wattle house five children who risk starvation if she does not risk her own life. This is a pointer to how desperate local communities in Uganda’s mining regions are getting, risking their health and safety, as the artisanal and small scale mining activities go on unmonitored and unregulated in the country.
Moroto district is not alone, recent media reports indicate that the use of hazardous chemicals in artisanal gold mining activities in Mubende district has left local communities health at risk.
Water Governance institute has been collecting soil and water samples from gold mining and processing points in Moroto and Mubende districts that will be tested in the laboratory for presence of mercury, cyanide, arsenic, lead and aluminium as indicators of pollution. Results derived from these tests shall be shared with the relevant authorities at local and central government levels, and used for evidence based advocacy activities such as sensitizing relevant stakeholders on the negative social and environmental impacts of mining on communities and ways in which such impacts can be mitigated.
The mining act 2003 is also generally lax on adherence to environmental and social principles in mining activities yet communities continue to bear the brunt of the negative effects. First of all, the act lacks a preliminary section outlining adherence to social and environmental principles. Also, Section 26 and 41 of the same act, in the application for an exploration license and mining lease information regarding plans to manage environmental impacts and restoration is not a compulsory requirement. An indicator that environmental and social impacts as well as planned mitigation and rehabilitation strategies are not taken as important criteria during the decision to allocate mining rights.
It is for this and many other reasons that government chose to revise this act and draft a new mineral policy to update the old one of 2001. This is aimed at improving regularisation of mining activities in the country for the sustainable exploration, development and production of the county’s vast mineral resources. This process is a historic decision that was long overdue.
However, Government seems to be moving slowly to put it in place this important law and policy amidst major developments in the sector such as the recent establishment of a gold refinery in Entebbe. Although the artisanal mining sector is generally portrayed as a traditional, unskilled, unchanging sector by government in reality it is a sector that is highly dynamic, responsive, and connected to the broader development nationally.
Note that, the December 2015 Auditor General's report on regulation, monitoring and promotion of the Mining sector indicates that artisanal and small scale mining operations produce over 90% of the national mineral output and employ about 200,000 Ugandans.
Therefore, government should expedite the new law and policy for stronger oversight over the sector .This will greatly contribute towards ensuring high standards of health and safety for the protection of the local host communities and the environment.
By Diana Taremwa , a programmes officer, Water Governance Institute
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