TANZANIA: The human cost of gold: And a deadly price to pay

Publisher Name: 
This Day Tanzania
Villagers living near a gold mine owned and run by Canada's Barrick
Gold Corp. in Tarime District, Mara Region are demanding the immediate
closure of the project, saying they are paying a deadly price for the
mining activities in the area.

Already, scores of people residing around Barrick's North Mara Gold
Mine are showing serious signs of exposure to pollution in the form of
water contaminated with various chemicals allegedly flowing out of the
mine and into the nearby River Tigethe.


The villagers accuse the mine management, under the Canadian
investor company, of causing fatal health hazards to human beings,
livestock, and land in Kebasula Ward in Tarime, where the mine is
located.


They say more than 20 people have died in recent weeks as a direct result of the contaminated water.


''We have no problem with investors. But the investors must respect
and treat us like human beings. These Canadians are killing us...they
are not doing business,'' said Ms Esther Mugusuhi, one of a group of
affected villagers interviewed by THISDAY in Dar es Salaam yesterday.


Ms Mugusuhi said the mining activities by Barrick Gold have
incapacitated her and many others, in her case rendering her right hand
dysfunctional.


''I used to work productively in my farm, but I am now a dependent person...all because of the investors,'' she asserted.


She called on the Canadian Government to intervene in the
environmental nightmare by ensuring medical costs for all the victims
of pollution in the area are footed.


Another villager, Mkwave Mwita, pointed an accusing finger at the
Tanzanian (home) Government for valuing mining activities by foreign
investors more than it values the welfare of its own citizens.


''I think this is the only country on earth where stones (gold) are more valuable than human beings,'' Mwita stated.


Like Ms Mugusuhi, he also said the Canadian Government is morally
obliged to help those affected by the North Mara Gold Mine operations
because ''it is Canadians that are reaping more benefits from Tanzanian
mineral resources than Tanzanians themselves.''


Pictorial and other evidence from the area strongly indicate a real
danger of more people residing around the mine area and using the River
Tigethe waters for various household uses contracting serious diseases
that have so far remained a puzzle to local medics, and could
eventually even kill them.


The villagers described infections that start with increased body
itching and frequent yawning, causing victims to scratch their bodies
and end up with lacerations.


The chairman of Kebasula Ward's CCM branch, Keremani Nyakiha, was
part of the group interviewed, and said more than 20 people have so far
died as a result of the infections within the past couple of months.


He said many more villagers in the area are bed-ridden and with
little hope of recovering due to lack of appropriate medical attention,
while there are reports that over 150 cattle have died of the
'disease.'


Despite his CCM posting in the ward, Nyakiha did not hesitate to
blame the Government for ''playing politics'' with the lives of people
over this matter.

''This is not an issue of politics...it is about people's lives,''
he said, adding: ''The situation in Kebasula is terrible - people are
dying, cattle are dying, dogs are dying, everything is dying. Soon
there will be no living organism in the area...not even toads.''


He castigated district and regional government leaders of
deliberately turning a blind eye to reports of villagers dying of the
allegedly poisonous infection, and favouring the investors instead.


''It is ridiculous and shameful for a whole Government leader to
dismiss in public what is obvious to everybody. If the Government has
nothing to do for its people, it had better just keep quiet,'' Nyakiha
asserted.


Asked to mention any benefits the surrounding village communities
may be reaping from the mining project, he retorted: ''Nothing...just
dust and skin diseases.''

The group of villagers are in Dar es Salaam on a mission to raise
public awareness on their case, courtesy of the Norwegian Church Aid
non-governmental organisation.


Independent medical experts consulted by THISDAY say the villagers
could be suffering from cyanide poisoning as a result of expanded
mining activity. It is understood that short-term exposure to high
levels of cyanide harms the central nervous system, respiratory system,
and cardiovascular system. Even very small concentrations of the toxic
substance can kill humans, fish, birds, livestock and plant life.


However, when contacted for comment late yesterday, Barrick
Tanzania spokesperson Teweli Teweli dismissed the allegations as
baseless, saying Kebasula Ward - situated about 30 kilometres from the
mine - is too far to be vulnerable to any seepage from the mine's
sewage pond.

He named villages surrounding the mine as Nyangoto, Kewanja, Genkuru, and Nyamongo.


''Following the problem of water leakage on May 9 this year, we
conducted a meeting with the surrounding communities and agreed that
any anomaly to cattle or human beings should be reported to us...but we
heard nothing until the ward councillor wrote to us about the deaths of
18 people,'' Teweli told THISDAY.


He dismissed any chance of a ''scientific'' connection between the claimed deaths and Barrick North Mara Mine operations.


Teweli said initial remedial work to intercept and divert water
from the mine from reaching waterways in the vicinity has been
completed and ongoing remediation and monitoring continues.


''Management and monitoring of this specific situation will remain a priority of the mine,'' he added.


Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda yesterday directed the
Minister for Home Affairs, Lawrence Masha, to investigate the reported
pollution at the Barrick North Mara Gold Mine.


The premier gave the directive when responding to a question from
the Tarime Member of Parliament, Charles Mwera (CHADEMA), who wanted to
know from the Government what is to be the fate of victims of the
reported mine pollution.

AMP Section Name:Natural Resources
  • 116 Human Rights
  • 182 Health
  • 183 Environment