Ending Mercury Amalgam, A Top Priority of Our Time
A few yards from the towering 39 feet broken leg chair amounting 5.5 tons of timber, symbolizing “opposition to land mines and cluster bombs”, happened a meeting that deliberated on the processes that would lead to end the use of mercury amalgam come the year 2020.
The Conference of the Parties
The Third Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP3) that commenced in Geneva on November 25 and will run until 29, 2019 brought together high-level stakeholders from all-over the world. The meeting and the deliberations here are meant to discuss the well-being of our planet, including persons who come in contact with mercury during their lifetime.
According to the Minamata Convention, “mercury is a chemical of global concern owing to its long-range atmospheric transport, its persistence in the environment once anthropogenically introduced, its ability to bioaccumulate in ecosystems and its significant negative effects on human health and the environment” is unmatched.
But it does not end there. The Convention expressly states that mercury produce “significant adverse neurological and other health effects […] on infants and unborn children”. With such hazardous and long-term life-threatening impacts, on the 20 February 2009, the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiated an “international action to manage mercury in an efficient, effective and coherent manner”.
Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining and Mercury Contamination
The proceedings of the meeting revealed that Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) is the largest consumer of Mercury. It was reported that the prevalence of the use of mercury is in the developing economies in the global South. In the presented statistics, about 1,200 tons of mercury sediments already emitted on land and water comes from the ASGM sector activities. This is staggeringly shocking.
When listening to the arguments and presentations, even though the different presentations revealed that between 2010 and 2015 most of the mercury emissions were recorded in Asia, West and sub-Saharan African populace is in great danger. According to UNEP’s Global Mercury Assessment for the year 2018, “…Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) accounts for about 70% and up to 80% of the emissions from South America and Sub-Saharan Africa, respectively”.
A report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, released in 2018, on the Global Trends in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM), shows an increase in numbers of people working in the ASM sector from 6,000,000 in 1993 to 40,500,000 in 2017 worldwide. But the same report also suggests that “Some sources estimate a much higher number – up to 100 million ASM operators – compared to seven million people working in industrial mining”.
Let’s bring this closer, home. A recent mapping activity carried out by the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), indicates that, in Tanzania alone, not even the whole country but in the north of the country, covering Mara, Geita and Shinyanga Regions, there are a total of a total of 337 ASGM operators.
The majority of these operators have not yet started adopting the use of Mercury-free gold processing methods. They are still using the traditional Mercury amalgamation. Let’s not start talking about the careless manner in which this hazardous substance is handled by almost by all involved in the gold extraction in the ASGM subsector due to lack of proper structures that follow known Occupational/Environmental, Health and Safety principles.
In a nutshell, even though Mercury is a global environmental and human health threat, the burden of its impacts is heavily borne by the end users in developing countries where ASGM activities are increasingly relevant for survival. Not by the producing countries.
Tanzanian Government and the Minamata Convention
On September 10, 2019 the Parliament of Tanzania approved the ratification of the Minamata Convention. This was done after a lengthy discussion that tabled the dangers of Mercury amalgamation. In these discussions, the Minister of State in the Vice-President’s Office – Union Affairs and the Environment, Hon. George Simbachawene informed the house that between 23 to 33% of Artisanal and Small-scale Miners in Tanzania are affected by Mercury.
Even though there was no representation from the Tanzanian delegation in the Conference of the Parties of the Minamata Convention, due to the fact that Tanzania is yet to ratify the Convention, it was the desire of the Conference, especially the African Region Sessions to see Tanzania in the future Conference of the Parties.
Scanning the conference and different Regional Sessions, the Africa Region Session was bereft of the Tanzanian delegation. As if it was not left behind, there were representatives from two non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), namely AGENDA for Environment and Responsible Development, and the Foundation for ASM Development (FADev).
Leadership, Inclusion and African Representation
The leadership in the processes that would create a safer environment for us all, especially for those who come from the ASGM operations intensive regions, is from Africa. African Region was well presented in the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury – MC/COP3.
The deliberations during the 5-day meeting of the parties, the fact that the President for the Conference of the Parties for this conference was from Zambia, should have been a motivator for more countries, including Tanzania to attend and participate in the Conference.