Throughout the world and particularly in Africa, including Mozambique, artisanal mining has been expanding as an activity. With it, numerous challenges multiply that threaten individual, community and environmental health. It is known that this activity in the way it is carried out today, generally outside the law and always in informality, has caused highly negative impacts, both on the landscape and on individual and collective health. According to the United Nations Environment Program, artisanal mining is the main cause of mercury emissions to the atmosphere (37% of global emissions) and its practice has no visible impact on the development of the communities in which it is carried out, given the limited options for participation of prospectors groups formally organized and recognized, minimizing the potential to improve the lives of communities.
Mozambique has experienced rapid economic development in the past 20 years, but this has had a very limited effect on poverty reduction and its geographical distribution. More than half of the Mozambican population lives in situations of extreme poverty, with agriculture being the main source of survival. The scarcity of rainfall, the precarious techniques used and climate change have resulted in reduced production and loss of livelihoods. The high levels of poverty in rural areas, widespread unemployment (especially affecting youth), the lack of opportunities for further education, government tolerance and, sometimes, the high incomes from mineral exploitation, are some of the causes of the proliferation of artisanal mining in the country. It is estimated that today, across the country, 100,000 people are directly involved in the artisanal mining sector, supporting the lives of half a million people in rural areas and with higher poverty rates.
In the specific case of Cabo Delgado, the increased exploitation of mineral resources is an unavoidable reality. There, a formal extractive industry coexists (dedicated to the exploration of oil, gas, coal and other fossil minerals) and informal, artisanal and small-scale mining, practiced by the “prospectors”. The attention of the government, international companies, international and national organizations that work towards an efficient and distributive management of resources has been concentrated in the formal industry. As such, artisanal mining has not received due attention, a fact that inhibits its potential as a development mechanism and does not allow to alert and minimize the risks inherent to this activity. Most of the discussions and debates that have been taking place on mining focus mainly on issues of legal and fiscal framework, leaving aside other equally important issues, such as socio-economic and environmental changes.
The truth is that the large gold deposits that exist in the province have generated massive population movements and created informal settlements, compromising the already limited capacity to provide quality public services, with health care being the most affected. In addition, mining activity contributes to soil erosion and a consequent decrease in land fertility; to the obstruction of the hydrographic network by sedimentation due to the opening of craters (which prevent further agricultural use); and to water pollution caused by the process of crushing and washing stones for the extraction, especially of gold, further reducing the availability of water for consumption and for irrigation of the fields. This situation poses serious threats to public health, as well as to the development of socio-economic activities. Furthermore, the existence of social conflicts between miners and extractive companies with exploration concessions, precarious working conditions of miners (who operate without respecting the basic standards of safety and hygiene at work), accentuated nomadism and consequent fragmentation of families for long periods of time, use of child labour, increased crime, prostitution, violence in general and sexual violence. A negative economic impact associated with artisanal mining is also known, as the conditions in which it is practiced contribute to promote illegal marketing and increase food and nutritional insecurity (as a result of the abandonment of agriculture by the communities that dedicate themselves to this activity).
Aware of this reality, medicusmundi started, in 2019, a project that aims to reduce the negative impact that artisanal mining has been causing in three districts of Cabo Delgado (Montepuez, Namuno and Ancuabe). The project “Reducing the Negative Impact of Artisanal Mining on Individual, Community and Environmental Health”, funded by the Generalitat Valenciana, will help to increase knowledge about the practice of artisanal mining in the intervention districts; introduce alternative methods to the use of mercury in gold mining, promoting clean practices that respect the environment; strengthen the capacity of the health system to provide services to communities in mining areas, improving the capacity of human resources and developing new systems that make it possible to adapt the offer of services to the new social and health profiles that artisanal mining is creating; sensitize the population in the intervention areas (and the population in general) about mining risks and promote health campaigns so that communities, through the improvement of their own organization, are able to minimize the negative impacts of this practice and maximize their economic potential. The project will advise mining organizations to consolidate themselves as associations or cooperatives, so that they can have a greater capacity for dialogue with local authorities.
This intervention will continue until 2021 and is in line with several goals and objectives set out in the UN Agenda 2030, since it jointly addresses health and environmental problems in a holistic and comprehensive perspective.
Published on 12/03/2020