East African scientists warn over mining activities
Tuesday, October 15, 2002
The Nation (Nairobi)
October 15, 2002
Posted to the web October 14, 2002
John Oywa, Nairobi
Scientists from East Africa want a tighter control on small-scale mining to check environmental degradation.
Senior scientists and geologists said haphazard mineral exploration was an "environmental time bomb" to the region.
Speaking at a workshop in Mwanza, Tanzania, they called for stringent regulations for large-scale miners to ensure that techniques used were not harmful to the environment.
Dr Crispin Kinabo, a geology lecturer at Dar-es-Salaam University, said besides damaging the environment, uncontrolled mining also exposed miners to health risks for they inhaled toxic substances such as mercury and cyanide.
The workshop on Mining in Lake Victoria Basin was organised by the Network of Environmental Journalists and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Small-scale miners, the workshop heard, did not have the capacity to conduct environmental assessments, making their investments uneconomical.
Dr Wilson Mutagwabwa, a Dar-es-Salaam consultant, said Tanzania did not have adequate personnel to monitor mining.
He said Tanzania, where artisanal and small-scale mining posed grave danger to the environment, had only employed two trained mining experts.
"Given the rate of growth of the mining sector and the enormous number of issues related to mining and environment, its hard to believe that two people can handle the entire industry", said Dr Mutagwabwa.
He said that Tanzania's Ministry of Energy and Minerals did not have a single staffer trained on environmental management, nearly five years after a consultant working for the World Bank's Mineral Sector development' recommended the employment of such a person.
Dr Mutagwabwa said the Ministry lacked basic facilities needed to streamline mining in the country, making their inspection work difficult.
"Despite the legislation requiring the mine workers to provide safety working tools, none of the mining offices have any safety equipment for its inspectors", said the officer.
He added: "In areas where mine owners have no safety working facilities, inspector opt not to enter the mines for scrutiny for fear of being injured".
Journalists attending the three-day workshop called on the IUCN to commission a study on the socio-economics of mining and the environmental impacts in Kenya and Uganda as had been done for Tanzania.
An environmental economist with the IUCN, Dr Fanuel Shechambo told the workshop that Tanzania's expanding mining industry had spiralled social and environmental costs, leading to drugs, child labour and prostitution.
"Lack of technology and skills among such miner workers lead to environmentally unfriendly mining methods, like digging of thousands of pits and leaving them uncovered.
He said that mining in Nyanza had not been in tandem with sustainable development and warned that it could lead to massive losses in economy, environment and the society unless urgent measures were taken.
A visit by the participants to the diamond rich Mabuki village in the Msungwi district of Mara region revealed massive land degradation by artisanal miners.
A Kenyan delegation said Kenya was facing similar problems as small scale in areas like Nyanza and Western provinces have destroyed swathes of land and vegetation while exploring gold and other minerals.
Besides destruction of environment, many artisanal gold diggers in parts of Kenya have lost their lives after being buried a live in pits.
Mr John P. Owino, an environmental scientist at the IUCN, challenged journalists to help in the conservation of nature by bridging the gaps between researches and members of the public.
"The war against environmental degradation in East Africa could easily be won if journalists worked closely with scientists. This is why the IUCN is keen on the empowerment of environmental journalists", said Mr Owino.
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