A new project launched recently in Kampala by national authorities and international organizations aims to advance a more responsible artisanal gold mining sector across the country.
The five-year planetGOLD Uganda project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP. The planetGOLD Uganda project will be executed by the international non-profit organization, IMPACT, in partnership with Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the country’s Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM).
The project will work together with local communities to reduce the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining—the world’s largest source of anthropogenic emissions of mercury pollution— while improving the health and lives of local mining communities. The Ugandan project is part of a global program similarly implemented in 23 countries.
The planetGOLD Uganda project plans to support 4,500 men and women at 11 mine sites in the country, reducing mercury use by 15 tonnes over five years. The project aims to reduce the use of mercury by supporting formalization of the artisanal gold mining sector and increasing access to finance. This will lead to adoption of mercury-free technologies and allow access to more responsible and traceable gold supply chains.
“Artisanal gold mining is a critical source of livelihood for many in Uganda and an important opportunity for economic development. Through the planetGOLD Uganda project, miners will be introduced to solutions to the environmental and social challenges in the sector, helping to transition toward more responsible gold mining practices,” said Ludovic Bernaudat, Head of UNEP’s GEF Chemicals and Waste Portfolio.
A virtual inaugural inception workshop on November 23 brought together Ugandan mining governance authorities and the technical services of the mining administration to introduce the key themes and priorities of the project.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) (https://bit.ly/2QfzkhL), exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes, as well as pose a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life.
In Uganda, an estimated 90 percent of the country’s gold production is mined artisanally, with over 31,000 miners in the artisanal gold sector. While the quantities that miners are extracting and processing are very small, the use of mercury is very common. 73 percent of Uganda’s artisanal gold is produced using mercury —resulting in more than 15 tonnes of mercury being released annually.
Mercury contaminates the soil, water, air, and the equipment that is used. It is highly toxic to miners and others who come in direct contact with it—particularly when vaporized or among children and pregnant women. Mercury emitted to the air can also circulate around the world and contaminate water, fish, and wildlife far from the mine from which it was released.
“In 2019, Uganda ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury. We are eager to partner with the planetGOLD Uganda project to implement our commitments to reduce and eliminate the use of mercury in artisanal gold mining. We look forward to introducing a cleaner, more responsible, and more prosperous artisanal mining sector that benefits both the people and the planet,” said Barirega Akankwasa, PhD, Executive Director of the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA).
“With the growth of the artisanal mining sector over the past decade, Uganda has had to reform its legislative approach to keep up with the changing context of the mining sector. The Mining and Minerals Act 2022 provides the opportunity to support responsible development in the sector, which includes gazetting of artisanal mine sites for easy management, environmental stewardship, improved health and safety at mine sites, and elimination of hazardous chemicals such as mercury,” said Agnes Alaba, Acting Director of the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM).