EDITORIAL: MONITOR MERCURY USE CLOSELY IN GOLD MINES

Thursday September 30 2021

Mining is a money spinning activity, which has of late been attracting many people in different parts of the country. The gold business, whose annual export earnings are around $3 billion, attracts 1.2 million people across the country.

However, there is cause for concern regarding unregulated use of mercury by artisanal and small-scale gold miners (ASGMs).

Admittedly, artisanal gold mining is a vital source of income, but it is also very dangerous when miners use mercury to separate gold from the ore. However lucrative the business may be, human health should come first – and the regulations on this observed strictly.

Indeed, millions of artisanal miners risk their lives daily, not just by working under dangerous conditions, but also because they are constantly exposed to toxic chemicals, mercury especially included.

According to researches, prolonged, high exposure to mercury by inhalation damages the nervous, digestive and immune systems. Mercury also contaminates water bodies, to the detriment of both marine life other users of the water.

In that regard, we need new alternatives to mercury for small miners for their safety and that of other stakeholders.

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Kudos to the government for signing the Minamata Convention on Mercury, to stop use of mercury in mining by 2033.

However, we urge education for our miners, and the procurement of alternatives to mercury use in order to protect Tanzanians and the environment from the harmful effects of mercury.

There surely must be safer alternative technologies and practices than the traditional mercury in this?

The desire to harvest the precious metal is irresistible, and if there is continued laxity in enforcing the relevant mining regulations, artisanal miners would also continue with business as usual, to achieve their golden goals regardless of the adverse impacts all-round.

The relevant authorities should take a hands-on approach to educate miners in efforts to reduce mercury use in their activities.


IT’S GOOD NEWS FOR MTWARA

Mtwara is the third largest seaport in Tanzania, after Dar es Salaam and Tanga, all managed by the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA). Not much was known of Mtwara port before the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme conceived by colonial Britain in 1946 to solve the shortage of cooking oil in Europe following World War II.

However, the 36-million-pound-sterling, three million-acre project was abandoned in 1951 – and Mtwara just as soon went into the doldrums. Today, however, the port in in the news again – but, this time, on the back of cashew nuts, a crop that is already doing well under an independent home government where a colonial government miserably failed with its groundnuts scheme 70 years ago.

The port has been vastly improved in terms of handling equipment and capacity – which has been upgraded from 400,000 tonnes to a million tonnes a year at a total cost of Sh157.8 billion – and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is very good news indeed not only for cashew farmers, exporters and other stakeholders, but also for the economy and Tanzanians at large.

However, domestic processing in the value-chain would do wonders, becoming one of the biggest foreign exchange earners for the country. Value addition to the crop should, therefore, be our next step.