Mining, environment and health in Burkina: Mercury, a slow-fire killer

For more than a decade, Burkina Faso has been experiencing a mining boom. This situation is likely to cause more damage to the environment. Especially because of the use of certain substances to treat gold such as cyanide and ore. To preserve the environment, Burkina Faso has ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Its overall objective is to assess the country’s national situation in terms of use and flow of mercury and mercury compounds in order to identify priority needs and to suggest some appropriate intervention measures to meet the requirements of the Minamata Convention.

According to a report from the technical services of the Ministry of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change published in June 2018, the impact of mercury is very important on human and animal health, as well as on the environment. In fact, in Burkina Faso an average of 353,590 kilograms of mercury is used per year for gold production, except for gold production by amalgamation. This is therefore concerned with artisanal and small-scale gold mining or gold panning.

The artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector (EMAPE) is the world’s largest source of anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury. This is evidenced by the results of the 2018 Global Mercury Assessment (UNEP), which shows that the industry accounts for about 38% of total global mercury emissions to air (844 tonnes) and 68% of releases to water and land. (1,220 tonnes).

Mercury is heavily used in gold mining in Burkina Faso. According to a survey by Canadian NGO Artisanal Gold Council (AGC) in 2013, the ratio of gold and mercury is 1 / 1.3 grams. To use 1 gram of gold it is necessary to use 1.3 gram of mercury. Anything that poses an imminent danger not only to the health of the operators but also to the environment.

The national inventory is quite clear on this point. Mercury damages the environment (air, soil, water), fauna and flora. This shows to what extent the local populations of these places of exploitation are in danger of death. If nothing is done, the mercury will continue to gnaw slowly.

Mandela Washington Fellow, for Young African Leaders — Civic engagement — Development Cooperation, Economist, Project Management skills, Free learner

Mandela Washington Fellow, for Young African Leaders — Civic engagement — Development Cooperation, Economist, Project Management skills, Free learner