By Josephine Maidjane, Guy Le Brun and Jaff Bamenjo | RELUFA, Cameroon
The East Region of Cameroon has attracted local artisanal miners for decades in search of gold and diamonds, working with rudimentary tools. And since 2016, semi-mechanized mining companies, primarily from Asia and South Africa have started to flock to the zone. Semi-mechanized mining uses a combination of manual labor and industrial machinery (computerized or high skilled), but still relies heavily on the labor of miners. These companies are carrying out their mining activities in proximity to the activities of the local artisanal miners.
Artisinal mining operation do have their impacts on the environment, however, the advent of semi-mechanized mining (SMM) into the region has aggravated the phenomenon of abandoned open mine pits and its associated impacts. These SMM companies abandon the open mine pits once they have exhausted their mineral exploitation and they then move to the next mine site without closing or restoring the previous site. The Cameroon Mining Code requires that mining companies close and restore mine sites, but there is currently no enforcement of the regulations and no corporate responsibility. These abandoned mine pits are causing a lot of despair among the local population in Batouri in the East Region.
Abandoned open mine pits are scattered throughout Batouri, causing many problems over the past decade for the populations living in mining villages. Villagers have died in landslides resulting from the severe erosion of the land. And villagers have drowned in the abandoned mine pits that have been transformed into artificial lakes. Between 2014 and 2022, Forests and Rural Development (FODER), a civil society organization based in Yaounde, recorded more than 200 deaths at abandoned mining sites in the East Region. Additionally, the artificial lakes that form within abandoned open mine pits become breeding places for mosquitoes, increasing the rates of malaria and diarrheal diseases. Cattle herders sometimes even lose their cattle in the lakes. Further, the lack of restoration and rehabilitation of the abandoned mining site impacts the availability of farmland and grazing lands, impacting food security and livelihoods for local communities.
Abandoned mine pits attract the local populations desperate to find gold after the companies leave. Many abandoned mine pits are located near schools and residential areas. Often school children stop their studies to look for gold in these pits. You can find children aged 3 to 13, working in these abandoned sites, extracting gravel to in search of residual gold. During the 2020-2021 school year, the majority of the children enrolled in the final year of primary school left their studies to look for gold residues in an abandoned mine pit and none of the students took the final official examination to complete primary school. This is how bad the situation has become in the mining zones of the East Region of Cameroon as the future of young people is forfeited for the elusive wealth of mining gold. The average school dropout rate in mining communities is estimated at 91%. Such a large dropout rate indicates that we are failing to ensure that every child have the right to education as guaranteed by Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Preamble of the Constitution of Cameroon.
Raising Awareness and Remedy
RELUFA, the Joining Hands network in Cameroon, has been working to raise the awareness of local mining communities on their rights, the responsibilities of mining companies under the mining code, and the importance of education for the future of their children. RELUFA is also targeting those in positions of power to remind them of their responsibilities to ensure that the companies mining in Cameroon respect their contractual engagements. RELUFA has produced a guide to help communities monitor the social and environmental obligations of mining companies so that communities can better understand their rights and the mechanisms for holding companies responsible for their actions. Building the capacities of community leaders to monitor the mining industry and demand their rights is key to positive change in the East Region. RELUFA intends to continue to dedicate staff and resources to this work so that mining communities benefit from the wealth of their land rather than be the victims of its exploitation.
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