By Phillo Aryatwijuka
Behind that favorite gold ring, necklace, bangle, all your gold jewelry and probably all things gold you admire there is likely to be a sad untold Artisanal and Small Scale Miners (ASM) story
A history of your favorite gold jewelry’s journey through the hands, toil, sweat and tears of an ASM vulnerable woman and exploited child miner who goes down that dreaded underground tunnel not sure of his safety to the story of endless hours in the sun crushing, sieving, panning hard rock and soil, a story of exploitation in prices and other stories at ASM mining sites that are never told.
It’s the reality of this story that hit me at my recent visit to Loolung gold mining site in Rupa sub county Moroto district and tested my love for gold jewelry and products.
Our love for all things gold is usually the sweat and exploitation of ASM who produce over 90% of metallic, industrial and building minerals; providing livelihoods to almost 200,000 individuals.
A gold rush at Loolung mining site for the past two months has seen about 1000 miners throng the place within two months.
These miners come from various places within and outside the country but mostly Karamojongs.
The day I visit, Loolung mining site is bustling with activity, miners are drinking local brew, others are deep in the mining pit extracting soil, others sieving dirty soil, cries of young children and babies everywhere and under the tree a mineral dealer is awaiting the miners to bring their hard toiled gold for sale, for others it’s a business opportunity for petty trade alcohol being the most lucrative.
Looking around there are about one hundred temporary structures that provide shelter for these miners.
My interaction with the chairman of the site just brings the same harsh realities of most ASM mining sites in Karamoja.
No water! We all know water is life and for gold miners water is life and more than life because it’s one of the biggest factors in production.
For Loolung a twenty liter jerrican costs 2000 since they collect it within 5km distance. How then can you guarantee the elimination of mercury at such a site?
How much do the ASM earn to be able to afford a jerrican of Shs2000 for panning? At the same site the nearest health center and services are 5km away.
The chairman goes ahead to confirm our fear that despite the huge number of miners at the site they haven’t acquired a location license putting their legality and sustainability at the site in jeopardy.
For a site like Loolung it’s always a harsh realization of how far the mineral sector promise is for Karamoja.
The lack of formalization and regulation for ASM has for long been one of the key challenges for the mining sector in Karamoja. Sites are characteristic of poor health and safety standards, child labour, exploitation by mineral dealers and lack of location licenses.
This in the end always reflects back towards the meagre royalty benefits from Karamoja mineral sector at large.
How do you expect to get substantive royalties from over 20,000 ASM miners in the region when they are not formalized?
The harsh reality is that if you cannot track any production from a site like Loolung you will never know how much is lost in revenues.
On the other hand such ASM sites bring us to questioning how the government has put in place mechanisms to involve popular mining districts local governments in ASM mining processes at the local level.
There is disconnect and limited involvement that is reflected in licensing, environmental monitoring, issues of occupational health and safety among others.
For the mining sector promise to come alive there is need to expedite the process of formalization and regulating the ASM which is already provided for under the new final draft mineral and mining policy that is awaiting approval.
The author is the Programme Officer, Ecological Christian Organisation