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Sudan: Southern Kordofan Mining Practices Prompt Environmental Outcry

Talodi / Merowe — Locals in Talodi, South Kordofan, have observed a surge in mining activities as companies escalate gold extraction using toxic chemicals harmful to both human health and the environment. Environmental activists told Radio Dabanga yesterday, that they are pointing fingers at multiple mining firms, alleging their exploitation of the country’s conflict situation to expand operations.

These firms allegedly installed 11 additional mixers since September. According to local residents, the amount of active mining mixers skyrocketed from seven to 19 between September 2023 and February 2024.

Most damning in the uptick of gold mining production are the multiple accusations stating that these firms are utilising harmful extraction practices involving chemicals such as thiourea in the process known as ‘gold leaching’.

In an interview with environmental activists, they state that the use of the banned substance thiourea, as well as the poor disposal of the waste by-product, has led to “multiple cases of birth deformities and animal deaths in the region”.

Mining waste dumps from these mixers (called karta in Sudan), containing heavy metals such as admium, lead, zinc, copper, arsenic, selenium, and mercury or cyanide, form a long-term hazard second only to nuclear waste dumps.

In a briefing entitled How mercury is poisoning a nation by Mohamed Salah Abdelrahman for the Sudan Transparency and Policy Tracker (STPT), Abdelrahman points out that “years of indiscriminate use of dangerous chemicals such as mercury, cyanide, and thiourea without protective measures for miners or local populations has exposed millions of citizens across Sudan to lethal risks”. He emphasised that the reoccurring flash floods have swept thousands of metric tons of mercury-contaminated mining residue into the Nile.

In March 2023, a number of gold mining sites seized and gold mining mixer operators were arrested, following a report on the mysterious death of a number of livestock in Talodi.

In the past, gold mining activity in Sudan faced similar accusations in their utilisation of harmful chemicals. Radio Dabanga reported last year, that both mercury and cyanide were used in artesian wells and basins in Merowe, Sudan’s Northern State.

Despite a 2020 Ministry of Energy and Mining directive to cease the use of the mixer thiourea across Sudan, regional mining companies persist in flouting regulations and accelerating operations.

Locals have alleged intimidation tactics, including threats of liquidation and imprisonment, are employed against dissenters.

Concerns have also been raised regarding the deployment of armed individuals by these companies to safeguard their mining sites, effectively preventing locals from accessing or scrutinising their activities.

Gold

Sudan is reportedly the second-largest producer of gold in Africa and the ninth in the world. Gold mines are scattered across Sudan, including Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile. Artisanal mining has also drawn hundreds of thousands of gold seekers to the deserts of Sudan’s northern and eastern states.

The total gold production of Sudan in 2020 reached 36.6 tons. The revenues amounted to SDG 22.5 billion, of which SDG 16.6 billion was deposited at the Ministry of Finance.

As the production was driven by unregulated, artisanal (individual subsistence) mining, the transitional government began to regulate the mining and export of the precious metal two years ago.

In October 2019, the government officially took over control of the Jebel Amer gold mines in North Darfur. In March this year, the government established state control over gold exports. It was also decided to establish a Sudanese gold exchange.

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