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Aftermath of lead poison that killed 400 children: FG seeks safer mining environment

By Yinka Oyebode

The Federal Government’s Safer Mining Project, aimed at enlightening artisanal and small scale miners on health, safety and environmental issues associated with hazardous mining, berthed in gold mining fields around Ilesha, Osun State recently, leading to the training and equipping of hundreds of artisanal and small scale miners in the area, reports.

•A well kitted local miner demonstrating his skills after the training

The Safer Mining Project, which was spear- headed by the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, commenced in Osun State last week with a sensitization and advocacy movement reaching out to communities such as Owu Epe, Ibodi, Igun, Igbadae, Ijana Wasere, Iyemogun, Epe Akire, in Ilesa area of the state, where remarkable gold mining activities are taking place.

Government believes it is imperative that all stakeholders within the gold mining value chain are made aware of the health implications and importance of keeping a clean and safe environment for the benefit of the artisanal and small scale miners and most importantly, the host community. For the purpose of gathering first-hand information from the community, the Ministry organised several town hall meetings which were attended by traditional rulers and chiefs, management/team of small scale artisanal miners association, women and adolescent groups, students, health workers as well as officials of the local mining inspectorate office.

The town hall meetings gave deeper insights into the activities of local miners as well as co-existential issues associated with gold mining in Ilesa and its environs. Participants at the town hall meetings were also given health talks on safer mining practices including; wearing protective gear, importance of registering with the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development and most importantly, the role of the Ministry in ensuring the environment is safe and free of environmental hazards.

An interactive training workshop was held to educate and expose small scale artisanal miners on the need to practise safer mining techniques. The workshop was primarily aimed at stimulating awareness using case studies through the education of participants on the effects and detection of heavy metals (Cyanide and heavy metals), practical demonstration of safer mining practices and benefits of registering, formalizing and zoning in compliance with government directives.

Practical demonstrations of how to correctly use personal protective kits were also undertaken at the various mining sites visited to buttress the importance of safety gear in relation to gold mining. Several Personal Protective Equipment were presented to participants alongside certificates of participation. Also, community extension service officers were nominated to establish an early feedback system between the communities and the ministry.

From Ibodi to Epe, Iyere to Igun, the story was the same; huge presence of hardworking Nigerian youths struggling to earn their living in the most hazardous manners. Through local techniques, with little or no regard for their safety and degradation of the environment, they ply their trade with enthusiasm, most times in oblivion of the associated health challenges and the hazards being caused to the environment.

The three -day tour and training provided a veritable platform for the various stakeholders to ventilate their feelings and fears. It was indeed a case of different stroke for different folks at the town hall meetings and the training sessions that followed as leaders of various communities and groups spoke on how the activities of local miners have impacted negatively on farming, hunting and other activities in their communities. The miners also painted very gory pictures of how many have been injured or died as a result of their hazardous manner of mining.

None of these complaints was strange to officials of the Ministry, who in designing the Safer Mining Project, had sought to achieve three things: protect individuals, protect the environment as well as encourage local miners to practise safer mining. As noted by a former President of the Artisanal Miners Welfare Association, Chief Friday Israel Mmecha, the decision of the ministry to intervene at this crucial time would further enhance the potentials of the sub sector.

At the Town Hall meeting held at Ibodi, the Federal Government team took community leaders and other stakeholders through the importance of the project to the economy, environment and individuals who are working in different communities for mining activities. Speaking on behalf of the team, a safety professional, Dr. Adebola Odunsi, charged the small-scale miners to ensure that the environment is well protected, while also urging them to   report activities of illegal miners in their neighborhood.

Odunsi identified two types of mining to include the one that is harmful and another that is harmless. He pointed out that mining is harmful if it endangers the lives of miners or dilapidates the environment, adding that harmless mining leads to safety of miners, sustainability of the environment and generation of revenue to economy. He had earlier told a group of journalists   that the project was informed by the increasing rate of heavy lead and mercury poisoning associated with gold mining, especially in Zamfara State, which had led to the death of about 400 children.

Even though government had intervened promptly to control the situation and had given adequate treatment to people affected, Odunsi stated that the ministry thought of something preventive and struck a deal with Michael H. Limited to design the Safe Mining Project, to sensitise and raise the level of awareness among local miners.

Odunsi said “Federal Government is aware that small-scale gold miners are exposed to occupational and environmental hazards at work. Government is also aware of the negative impact of some of their activities on the hosting communities, hence the need to educate the miners on the modern techniques. For instance, Mercury is commonly used for gold mining to remove the gold from the hub and this can be harmful if necessary steps are not taken,” he said.

A former President of Nigerian Society of Mining Engineers, Mr. Olusegun Oladipo, said the project was long overdue. He pointed out that over the years; stakeholders in the mining sector have impressed it on successive administration on the need for training and retraining of local miners to avoid accident and environmental degradation.

On basic precaution that must be taken during gold mining activities, the expert said it is necessary for miners to always make sure that work clothes are cleaned very well. He also urged miners to always bath thoroughly and change into clean clothing before leaving the job site. This, according to him is to prevent a situation where particles from the mining sites were not taken home.

Oladipo also advised the miners to always make sure that soiled clothing are stored in containers and must be washed after use as well as avoiding keeping work and street clothing in the same locker. The expert further warned the miners from keeping their food in any place where it can be contaminated with mercury.

Beyond the stakeholders’ forum and training, another interesting part of the three-day tour was the visit to various gold reserves where the team led a demonstrative exercise to acquaint the local miners with modern techniques. For instance, in Ibodi, miners on site were assembled and given practical tips on how to carry out their jobs in the safest manner.

Addressing the miners at the reserves, Odunsi stated emphatically that the Federal Government was determined to end hazardous practices in the bid to boost safer mining, which would help the miners, the communities and the nation’s economy. He advised them against digging without wearing protective clothing, adding that they must stop the use of chemicals such as mercury and cyanide in their mining activities in order not to expose themselves to grave health issues and pollution of the rivers.

The medical expert said poor mining activities could lead to serious health conditions such as infertility, severe cough, itching, and can also damage internal organs like the kidneys and the liver. “So you must do everything to protect yourself and to protect the environment”.

The highpoint of the event was the presentation of gifts, gadgets and certificates to participants. Aside certificates, miners and their supervisors were given protective items like; helmet, steel toe-boot, rain boots and hand gloves. Other items are; nose mask, reflective jacket and overall.

Meanwhile, for effective monitoring and supervision, three people, including a traditional ruler, Chief Sunday Ogunsiji, the regent of Epe Ijesha ; the patron of the Artisanal Miners Welfare Association, Chief Friday Israel Mmecha and one of the oldest miners in the state, Abubakar Aliyu, were presented with brand new motorcycles.

Chief Ogunsiji, who spoke on behalf of others applauded the initiative and pointed out that the intervention would go a long way in redefining the sector.

Ogunsiji called on the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, to impress it on government on the need to further open up the communities and the gold reserves to drive the economy.

Engr Patrck Ojeka, Director ASM in the Ministry said similar training would soon be replicated in other gold bearing areas, where safe mining is not being practiced.

Specifically he said the next round of training would be extension services. This, he said involves training of registered ASM on mining methods- all process and health safety in each of the 6 geo political zones of the country.




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