Banat, Sudan: Awadia Ahmed, a Sudanese mother, has long wondered why her youngest Tarab was born blind and unable to walk. Now she suspects a pile of toxic waste left by gold miners. In recent years, more and more traditional miners have flocked to her village, hoping to enrich the village.

However, they leave behind dangerous white powder waste containing toxic chemicals, including mercury used in the gold extraction process. Waste is dumped near farmland, water sources and residential areas. “His four brothers were born healthy, but only Tarab was born after the mine remnants spread,” said 45-year-old Ahmed in the village of Banat in the Nile, north of Khartoum. I told AFP at his home.

The 4-year-old lay beside her and couldn’t move. According to experts, artisan gold mining is widespread in most parts of Sudan, employs more than 2 million people and produces about 80% of the gold extracted nationwide. Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world, and mining remains a source of rapid profits that attracts many.

The industry has prospered since the oil-rich South Sudan collapsed in 2011 during the reign of President Omar al-Bashir. This period was characterized by financial difficulties, government mismanagement, corruption and international sanctions.

Banat, Sudan: In the village of Banat, River Nile, Nafisa Ali Al Awad, 8, who cannot walk or speak, is a handicap that may have been caused by exposure to the remains of gold mining. It is drawn. , North of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. -AFP

“Harmful to health”

However, the chemical pollution caused by the extraction of gold by craftsmen clearly poses a health hazard. Mercury can be fatal by damaging the nervous, digestive and immune systems. According to the World Health Organization, it also threatens the development of children in utero and early in life. Not only one of Banat’s 8,000 residents has observed birth defects or miscarriage.

At a nearby house, Awad Ali says he was a “normal child” until his daughter was two years old. “Then she couldn’t move, walk, stand or sit,” he said. Community leader Algaily Abdelaziz said the problem started five years ago. “The children were born malformed because they saw these waste deposits appear, and they still had a baby,” Abdelaziz said, 22 children including blindness and brain damage. He said he was born in a village with a deformity.

Saleh Ali Saleh of the Faculty of Petroleum and Minerals, University of Nilan, Khartoum, states that “mercury is harmful to health” is well known. According to a January report by Saleha and other Sudanese researchers, about 450,000 tonnes of mining waste (filled with mercury) are scattered throughout the lush landscape of the Nile. According to the report, blood, urine, drinking water and soil samples from several parts of the state show traces of high levels of mercury.

“People are frankly not interested in waste removal,” said Ali Mohammed Ali, head of the Sudanese Environmental Protection Association. This process “needs special treatment” and “ideally runs away from residential areas and water sources,” he added. Such safety measures are far from the minds of miners. About 50 km (30 miles) from Banat, Mohammed Issa mixed mercury and sand with his bare hands in a large metal bowl, hoping to separate gold from other minerals. “That’s the way people do it here,” said the 25-year-old. Issa said he had abandoned the poor life of agriculture and livestock farming in North Kurdufan in search of precious metals.

Year to fix

In 2019, Sudan’s current interim government issued a decree banning the use of mercury and cyanide after protesting its use in gold mines. Decisions are rarely enforced, and miners continue to use chemicals in more remote suburbs, Sale said. Sudan’s political and economic turmoil is putting pressure on households that are already struggling to reach their goals. The country’s economic crisis worsened after the October military coup led by Army Chief of Staff Abdel Fatta Albahan. The coup has caused significant reductions in international aid and has been supplied to soaring prices for basic commodities.

According to official figures, Sudan is one of Africa’s top gold producers, producing 30.3 tonnes of gold in the first half of 2021 alone. This does not include craftsmanship. The central bank estimates Sudan’s gold revenues in the first quarter of this year at $ 720 million, reflecting official output. The state-owned enterprise that oversees mining activities has rejected multiple requests for comment by AFP.

Profitable businesses have long been dominated by gloomy companies that link to the security services that flourished under Bashir. Saleh warns that there will be no quick solution. “The damage already done to the environment cannot be easily dealt with,” Saleh said. “Even if we manage to quit today, it will still take years to contain the effects of artisan mining.” For a small Tarab, it’s already too late. – AFP

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