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28 Jan 2019

Hans Merket, IPIS, in African Arguments (UK)

Tanzania: Study reveals high prevalence of child labour and health & safety hazards in small-scale mines

"Tanzania: Small-scale mining map reveals vast potential and pitfalls"

In Tanzania, mining is often the subject of headline news. There are frequent reports in the papers regarding fresh multimillion deals, new tax plans for the sector, or allegations of malpractice. These stories tend to focus on large-scale mining, which is central to the country’s economy. But much less-talked about is artisanal and small-scale mining, even though it is just as critical to millions of Tanzanians...

Many of the dangers of artisanal and small-scale mining are well-known, but surveying hundreds of sites revealed their extent. The campaign found, for example, that over 75% of workers operate informally on unlicensed sites. It also discovered that nearly 1 in 5 sites had been struck by at least one accident in the preceding year, leading to at least 175 injuries and 90 deaths. Safety awareness in general is worryingly low; personal protective equipment is rarely used and miners often use risky digging techniques.

Health emerged as another major concern. One third of workers has no access to sanitary facilities on site, while for those that do, the amenities are often in a poor condition or insufficient in number. Combined with inadequate waste management systems, this poses serious health risks for workers and neighbouring communities. Another key threat is the widespread use of mercury. Of those surveyed, 98% of gold processing sites use this highly toxic chemical to help extract the precious metal from its ore. The gold-mercury amalgamate is usually burned in the open air and in the proximity of residential areas. Children are especially vulnerable to mercury poisoning as it causes severe neurological and developmental problems. This makes it particularly worrisome that 18% of gold processing sites employ children below the age of 15.

Finally, the campaign revealed ASM to be a particularly patriarchal sector. Women make up just 20% of the total workforce and generally remain in lower-level positions with little job security. In three-quarters of the sites that engage women, their work is limited to crushing and panning, which earns one third of what an average miner gets. The new research shows the extent of the harms of artisanal and small-scale mining, but it also reveals its important – and often overshadowed – contributions.