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Sudanese environment expert warns for the use of cyanide in gold mining

August 28 - 2017 KHARTOUM
Gold mining in Sudan (AFP/alaraby)
Gold mining in Sudan (AFP/alaraby)

The pollution caused by the use of cyanide and mercury in gold mining “constitutes the largest and most dangerous threat to the country’s environment”, says a Sudanese environment protection expert.

“The use of cyanide and mercury will definitely lead to an environmental disaster in the country,” El Jeili Hamouda Saleh, Professor of Environmental Law at the Bahri University in Khartoum and legal advisor of the National Committee for Environmental Protection said in an interview with Radio Dabanga.

Responsibility

According to Dr Saleh, there are more than 40,000 gold mining sites in Sudan. About 60 gold processing companies are operating in 13 states of the country, 15 of them in South Kordofan.

He explained that the legal responsibility for gold mining and its procedures rests on the state, that is represented by the Sudanese Mining Company. “Currently this authority mainly issues permits to the gold mining companies through state and local offices.”

Khartoum must provide protection to the people and the environment in the country “by implementing the relevant international agreements, especially concerning the obligation of companies, factories, and individuals to obtain an environmental impact certificate and to adhere to safety procedures for workers and the environment.

“The international community has approved these measures. However, a number of countries, including Sudan, are violating the agreements and continue to spoil the environment,” the professor said.

“The use of cyanide and mercury will definitely lead to an environmental disaster in the country.” 

Complaints

The National Environmental Advocacy Committee has received complaints from people living in various places in South Kordofan, the area of Sodari in North Kordofan, El Sawadra in Northern State, and from other parts of Sudan.

“The Committee is now filing criminal cases against all 15 gold mining companies operating in South Kordofan, in order to compensate the people there for the negative effects on their health caused by these companies, and to oblige them to pay for decontamination of the areas,” Dr Saleh reported.

He expressed his concern about the silence of the Sudanese government with regard to the protection of the environment. “In many cases, government officials are even helping these companies to violate the law.”

He pointed to the 2005 Interim Constitution of Sudan “that grants all Sudanese the right to live in a clean environment”.

Hazards

Cyanide and mercury are used, mostly by traditional small-scale miners, for extracting gold from ore. The processes are controversial because of the highly toxic nature of the chemicals. Large-scale mining operations are using safer alternatives.

Mercury, causing damage to the nervous system at even relatively low levels of exposure, can contaminate the atmosphere and water at a very long distance. Cyanide that prevents the cells of the body from using oxygen, can enter water, soil, or air.

Protests against gold extraction plants in several parts of the country have increased, in particularly this year. In Northern State, North Kordofan, and North Darfur people took to the streets as well in fear for their health. In July, two people were killed in South Kordofan, in a dispute over a gold extraction plant in the area.

In December 2016, Al Jazeera English published a documentary about the health hazards for the mine workers themselves.

Exports

Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the southern Sudanese rebel movement led by the late John Garang in January 2005, Khartoum began to prepare for a possible secession of the south. As a secession would include the loss of about two thirds of its oil income, Sudan opted for the development of gold mining to compensate the losses.

In December 2016, Minerals Minister Ahmed El Karori reported that Sudan produced 25.6 tons of gold that year so far. The exports amounted to $1.24 billion, representing 37 percent of the country's exports. In 2014, Sudan had become Africa’s third largest gold producer, with more than $1 billion from gold exports.

According to the US Enough Project, the majority of Sudanese gold is conflict-affected and entails “a high risk for money laundering”. 


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