Although, gold mining started in Eritrea centuries back, mercury amalgamation processes started during the Italian colonization across the country, particularly in the western lowlands and central highlands. Preliminary surveys on mercury contamination in soil conducted in the lowlands of Eritrea, where Artisanal and Small Scale Gold mining (ASGM) had been common, show that the amount of mercury deposits in soil is estimated to be substantial although there have not been horrific effects of mercury.
The Ministry of Land, Water and Environment (MoLWE), in partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and research (UNITAR), organized a two-day inception work shop regarding the “Development of Minamata Initial Assessment and National Action Plan for the Artisanal and Small- Scale Gold Mining in Eritrea”. The workshop was held at Eritrean National Chamber of Commerce in Asmara on the 25th and 26th of July.
Mr. Mogos Woldeyonannes, director general of the Environment Department, opened the workshop. In his opening speech, Mr. Mogos expressed his gratitude to the representative of the UNITAR, administrators, representatives of different governmental and non-governmental factories, including the administrators of different administrations and the participants of the event. He said that, amalgamation of mercury in the Artisanal Mining has been a serious concern of mercury contamination, and added scientific studies have revealed that mercury pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa region alone accounts for about 16.1% of the global total anthropogenic mercury emissions to the atmosphere.
Mercury of course provides a wide range of benefits such as in electrical and electronic fields, health services, amalgamation in the mining sector etc. However mercury and its wastes are among the most hazardous substances and if mismanaged it could trigger irreversible damage to human health and the environment. Due to this fact, the issue of mercury has got global attention which resulted in the creation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2013.
The workshop focused on Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) and drafting the National Action Plan (NAP) which will provide a good basis for the management of mercury in the Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining in Eritrea. The development of NAP and implementation modalities will be integrated in the National Development Strategies and will contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Eritrea.
Throughout the workshop research papers were presented about the illegal importation of mercury, and illegal mining using mercury, which may cause skin problems, problems of respiratory system, and reproductive system, mental illness and cancer.
“We will work together to decrease to its minimum level the impairment and risks of mercury and increase the awareness of the people about the adverse effects of mercury” Mrs. Aster Reda’ezgi, Director of Environment Management division in the ministry, said.
Mrs. Aster further noted that since mercury is a hazardous element and can be transferred easily from the environment to human body, the administration of mercury in the right way is very important. Furthermore, she said, artisanal gold mining is illegal and at the same time it is done with illegally imported mercury, so its administration and giving license to artisanal and small scale gold mining is important and current timely.
In her presentation, she stressed traditional mining unintentionally harms people via the toxic emissions of mercury, all concerned bodies of government institutions, ministries, associations and non-governmental organizations need to work hard in increasing the awareness of the people.
She said that assessing the outcomes of mercury and making research on the sites in which traditional mining is practiced through mercury is the first and foremost agenda item of the work shop and the next step is to ratify the Minamata convention.
Minanata convention was adopted on 10th October 2013 at the diplomatic conference held in Kumamoto, Japan, in which 128 countries ratified it and agreed to work on it. Eritrea has notified the secretariat that it is taking meaningful steps to ratify the convention.
Mr. Ermias Yohannes from the Ministry of Energy and Mines, said traditional mining started in 1900 by means of panning with Italian colonization came enormous gold mining in Awgaro and later in Haykota, Megorayb and Zara, in 1931. Mercury as an amalgamation was introduced during that period.
Mr. Ermias also stressed that though traditional mining is illegal, there are some who practice artisanal gold mining. So they need to shift their economic base to other activities because the effects of artisanal gold mining are much worse than benefits.
Mr. Yost Hanin, representative of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), said that UNITAR is working in Eritrea because of its support to the Ministry of Land, Water and Environment in implementing project to protect Eritreans from the adverse effects of mercury emission. Since mercury is toxic heavy metal that is used in a wide variety of products and processes, including the artisanal and small scale gold mining, so this is inception for project that will be implemented together with the Ministry of Land, Water and Environment, UNITAR and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and it is financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Furthermore, he said that over the next one year and half, a series of activities will be done regarding the management of mercury.
Concluding the workshop, Mr. Mogos Woldeyonannes asserted that the ideas from different sectors and participants will be a mile stone for the future assessment on the use and the management of mercury in Eritrea and the development of NAP.