/Facing death head-on: Health and safety in the informal mining sector in Zimbabwe

Facing death head-on: Health and safety in the informal mining sector in Zimbabwe

By Joshua Chibvuma

The safety of informal miners is always compromised the world over due to lack of proper organisation and planning. Despite its contribution to the economy, safety issues for the informal miners is usually attended to when tragedy strikes.

The United Nations Environment Programme in 2017 estimated that 40.5 million people were directly engaged in artisanal mining in 2017 up from 6 million in 1993. This number may exclude those who informally mine and are marginalised in the statistical counts. These miners are exposed to danger. Most are not afraid of death which is the worst scenario.

The informal small scale industry in the Zimbabwe operates in diverse geographic locations throughout the year. A growing number of people are engaged in the artisanal mining due to economic bite. All these are exposed to mining dangers since safety clothing, conditions and response measure are usually absent.

Cases of mining collapse, sexually transmitted diseases, flooding, death and trapping of minerals are many and more frequently reported.

Reported cases are common in accessible areas in Provinces like Matabeleland South, Mashonaland Central and others. Unfortunately, inaccessible areas like in the Mountainous Chimanimani and Nyanga Districts may have cases of under reporting.

Extraction of high value minerals like gold from the ore is done using harmful chemicals like cyanide and mercury. The Minamata convention estimated that as far back as 2011 about 1 400 tonnes of mercury were released by small-scale miners including informal miners.

The United Nations Environmental Programme in 2017 highlighted that mercury poisoning affects the brain and the nervous, digestive and immune systems, as well as lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.

Miners dig tunnels in search for gold. Some go into disused mine tunnels. The mining tunnels pose a serious danger to miners since they are unsafe. Stories of miners trapped underground are common in the media. They attract public outcry and sympathy.

The silent killer chemicals are often less reported. Miners are exposed to the harmful effects of these chemical substance. Worse still health and safety concerns to safeguard and protect humanity and ecosystems goes unnoticed in many cases since informal mining is at times done in some remote and difficult terrain for law enforcers.

The World Health Organisation in 2017 notes that symptoms of mercury poisoning include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, headaches, cognitive and motor dysfunction, respiratory failures, psychotic reactions, and eventually death in the case of severe poisoning.

These among others are serious health and safety issues that informal miners are exposed to on a daily basis in their attempt to feed, dress and provide other essentials for their families.

Contact: jchibvuma@gmail.com

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