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Northern Sudanese protest against use of cyanide in gold mining

September 19 - 2016 SAWADRA
Workers in the Wad Bushara gold mine in eastern Sudan's El Gedaref, April 2013 (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters)
Workers in the Wad Bushara gold mine in eastern Sudan's El Gedaref, April 2013 (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters)

Hundreds of people in Sawadra in Sudan’s Northern State demonstrated on Saturday against the use of cyanide in gold mining near a water station in the area.

One of the demonstrators told Radio Dabanga on Saturday that about 500 people from the villages of Halfa, Abari, Mofraka, Sai, Aboud, and Kuweika went to the streets in Sawadra, holding up banners saying “Stop the use of cyanide. Stop the factories of death”.

The protesters presented a memorandum to the local authorities demanding the immediate closure of the gold extracting facilities in the area.

There are six gold extracting facilities in the Northern State, the largest being the Sawadra International Group facility, operating near  residential districts, the source explained. The gold miners are getting rid of used cyanide in the valleys in the neighbourhood, which resulted in the death of many animals and birds.

Cyanide and mercury are used to separate gold and silver particles from ore. The chemicals may cause various serious, possibly fatal health problems.

The head of the Nubian Corporation for Development and the Combating of the Dal Dam, Adil El Masri, addressed the rally on Saturday. He called for the removal of the Sawadra facility from the area. The chairman of the High Popular Committee against the Kajbar Dam, Izzeldin Idris, proposed the formation of “a front against traditional gold mining in the lands of the Nubians”.

Increased gold mining

In order to sustain expected losses in the country’s oil production after a possible secession of South Sudan, the Sudanese government began to enhance the gold production in the country a decade ago.

Sudan earned more than $1 billion from gold exports in 2014. In September of the following year, Minerals Minister Ahmed El Karori stated that he expected the gold production to reach record amounts in 2015. The gold production in that year so far amounted to 54 tons in the past eight months. Against the current market price of $35,579 per ton, the production value would be close to $1,9 billion. In April this year, the Ministry announced that the overall gold production had grown by three per cent.

Environmental deterioration 

People in northern Sudan have staged protests more than once against the use of mercury and cyanide by gold mining companies in the region.

On 11 February 2015, Radio Dabanga reported about the mass death of fish in Lake Nasser, south of Wadi Halfa, on the border between Sudan and Egypt. A source from the Ministry of Environment expressed his concerns about the toxic substances “in quantities that exceed the global rate limit”.

Residents in northern Sudan also complained about an unusual high rate of cancer cases as well. They attributed it to the use of cyanide, which can spread through the air.

Two months later, a committee formed by the Minerals Ministry recommended a review of the environmental deterioration resulting from the toxic gold production waste, which is traded at the markets, as well as a temporary halting of new gold mining licenses and the extension of current permits.

Minerals Minister El Karori announced in May this year that his Ministry will investigate alternatives for the use of mercury and the possibility of an agreement to ban the use of the chemical by 2020. He said that an immediate ban on mercury in Sudan would have a negative economic effect on the mining industry.


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