October 17, 2007

Girls, Pollution, Poverty: The Other Mining Disasters

Recent stories about workers trapped in mines often overlook an array of related labor, ecological and human rights issues.

Most articles never mention the biggest growing mining sector workforce: young girls.

A recent report by the International Labor Organization singles out Ghana, Niger, Peru and Tanzania as places where girls are increasingly doing dangerous small-scale mining work.

Underground, they are exposed to toxic dust and metals and are forced to work long hours without proper safety gear, according to the report.

Pollution is also rampant.

Across Africa, open-cast gold mining has exposed local residents to cyanide and mercury contamination, according to a Swiss journalist who has authored a book on the subject.

In Mali, polluted groundwater has caused four our of five women in two mining villages to miscarry.

The Swiss author estimates that it would take $16 billion to clean up all the groundwater contamination mining caused in Africa.

But 80 percent of the mines in Africa are owned by multinationals, and they are unlikely to want to foot the bill.

In Peru, a coalition of community groups have united around the Mantaro River, a crucial waterway, after becoming convinced that the 17 active mining operations in the Mantaro River valley are almost entirely to blame for its contamination by copper, iron, lead and zinc.

The pollution has been documented since the late 1990s, has sickened residents, and contaminated lakes at its source in the high Andes, reports Inter Press Service. .

Mongolia is in the midst of a “gold rush” that has brought everyone from nomads to taxi drivers to pan for gold in a handful of settlements in the middle of a desolate mountain range near the Chinese border.

Up to 100,000 prospectors have arrived from Ulan Bator, and a lot of the gold they find ends up on the black market, according to the Guardian.

At the behest of a Russian mining firm operating in the area, Mongolian police have cracked down on the illegal miners with arbitrary arrests and widespread abuse.

The industry is growing the Mongolian economy at a rate of 7 percent a year — but some officials worry about the mercury pollution that has resulted.

Corruption and wealth disparities are also on the rise.

Sources:

“Small hands in mining”
Latinamerica Press, October 11, 2007

“Gold-mining giants leave Africa to clear up mess: report”
Agence France-Presse, October 9, 2007

“Peru: Joining forces to save the Mantaro river”
Inter Press Service, October 9, 2007

“Prospectors and ‘ninja’ miners flood to east’s El Dorado”
Guardian (U.K.), October 10, 2007

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