The Guinean Government has taken an important step today, launching a $17-million project to reduce the use of mercury by the nation’s artisanal gold miners.
Used to extract gold from ore, mercury is a toxic chemical that can cause irreversible brain damage.
Guinea’s artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sector is valued at $300 million, supporting over 240,000 livelihoods.
However, this comes at a cost – more than 42 tons of mercury are used by the country’s artisanal miners annually.
The chemical can travel far from its point of dispersal, bioaccumulating in air, water and soil without breaking down in the environment. As such, the sector poses a transboundary health concern.
Led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and support from the Centre Africaine pour la Santé et l’Environnement (CASE), the Global Opportunities for Long-term Development of ASGM Sector Plus Guinea project – part of the planetGOLD programme – will reduce the use of mercury in Guinea’s mining sector, promote formalisation, access to finance and the uptake of mercury-free technologies. Guinea will join twenty-three countries taking coordinated action across the globe, through the GEF-funded programme.
“According to submitted National Action Plans, the Guinean ASGM sector is one of the largest in West Africa, characterised by influxes of informal migratory workers from neighbouring countries,” Ludovic Bernaudat, Head of UNEP’s GEF Chemical and Waste Portfolio said.
“To tackle issues such as mercury contamination and land degradation, the Guinea planetGOLD project will engage local stakeholders and strong set of co-financing partners.”
The project’s partnership with AngloGold Ashanti is particularly significant – the first time in the planetGOLD’s programme’s history that the project has partnered with a large-scale gold mining company.
Ashanti operates a large-scale mine in Guinea, near an artisanal gold mining community. The project will work to ensure ongoing dialogue between the two parties, providing a foundation for both parties to benefit from local mineral wealth.
In addition, the five-year project will align Guinea with international best practice, strengthening regulation for the formalisation of artisanal miners, reinforcing women’s leadership within the sector and facilitating a dialogue between miners and financial institutions to encourage investment in ASGM.
“Supporting formalisation is critical so that miners can access international markets,” said Sabrina Karib, Director of Sustainability at gold refiner Argor Heraeus, who have committed to buying $10 million of responsibly produced gold from Guinean miners if due diligence standards can be met.
“In promoting best practices, the project will build a bridge between Argor and Guinea’s artisanal miners, improving transparency and due diligence.”
To ensure the experiences generated in Guinea contribute to the development of the AGSM sector globally, the project will share its lessons learned with other countries through the planetGOLD global knowledge platform.
“The project represents a significant opportunity for Guinea's artisanal gold mining sector,” CASE Director Dominique Bally said. “By creating responsible supply chains, the project will help miners make the most of what they find.”
For more information contact:
Iñaki Rodríguez, Task Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
The planetGOLD programme works in partnership with governments, the private sector, and ASGM communities to significantly improve the production practices and work environment of artisanal and small-scale miners. By working to close the financing gap, supporting formalization, raising awareness, and connecting mining communities with mercury-free technology and formal markets, the programme aims to demonstrate a pathway to cleaner and more efficient small-scale gold mining practices that benefit everyone, from mine to market.
About the Global Environment Facility
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is a multilateral fund dedicated to confronting biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution, and strains on land and ocean health. Its grants, blended financing, and policy support helps developing countries address their biggest environmental priorities and adhere to international environmental conventions. Over the past three decades, the GEF has provided more than $22 billion in financing and mobilized another $120 billion for more than 5,000 national and regional projects.
About UN Environment Programme
UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.
This article was previously published on unep.org