Friday, April 19, 2024

Deadly incident prompts calls for regulation


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PARAMARIBO, Suriname, CMC – A grim, cold picture is emerging as to the conditions under which miners are conducting their illegal gold operations in east Suriname and forcing the Desi Bourterse government to consider urgent measures to deal with the situation.
There are also  calls for regulation and intervention in the sector.
Assistant Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Albert Ramdin, has described as “tragic”, the mining accident last Saturday that claimed seven lives.
The Surinamese born diplomat has since called for the enforcement of laws regulating mining operations. “We mourn for the loss of these sons of Suriname. It was a tragic accident that demonstrates the need for us to follow safety regulations, and the law itself. If we are to prevent incidents like this, we must enforce laws that are in place,” Ramdin said.
Surgold, the mining company with the appropriate concession for mining in the area where the illegal miners were working, said it hoped the government would seek to bring about a speedy solution to the problem.
 “The illegal miners have been active in the area using unregulated, unsafe and illegal mining techniques,” said Surgold spokesperson, Esteban Crespo.
The fatal mining accident has even prompted a parliamentarian from the neighboring French Guiana to call for cooperation with Suriname to curtail illegal mining on both sides of the border.
Chantal Berthelot, who also chairs the France-Suriname Friendship Commission of the French parliament, has called for tighter controls on immigration and adherence to safety in the area.  
The seven miners who were killed and two others, who were seriously wounded, had been working on a 10 meter wall when it collapsed. Three others managed to escape unscathed.
Rescue workers have held out little hope for finding other persons alive.
The government has since announced three days of national mourning casting a shadow over the celebrations marking the 35th anniversary of the country’s independence on November 25.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Hok said new measures were being drafted to prevent this “serious” incident from re-occurring.
 “We have to get a picture of this problem and rapidly take measures, because we cannot allow things to continue like this,” Hok said.
Government and mining officials have acknowledged that the victims were all self-employed, and were not operating under official regulations at the time of the accident.
Veteran journalist, Iwan Brave, who visited the area on Monday, said the accident underscores the harsh realities for those involved in the mining industry.
 “Here you can be rich in a second, but dead as well. It’s a thin line between luck and misfortune,” Brave quoted a miner.
He describes the “Gowtu Bergi”, the gold mountain where the fatal accident took place, as “surrealistic”. Bustling with activity, the muddy hill is populated by about 200 Brazilians and locals –mostly Maroons-, crisscrossing each other on heavy equipment and RV’s, like termites.
 While the accident Saturday took a grave toll, the real victim of this unbridled, uncontrolled illegal gold mining operation is the environment.
“The once virginal tropical rainforest is bleeding; transformed into a macabre red mountainous landscape with bottomless pits and red lakes,” Brave said. 
Small gold mining has since the mid 1990’s rapidly developed into a big business in Suriname, attracting thousands of garimpeiros (goldminers) from Brazil, who compete with the local population; both have resorted to unbridled use of quicksilver and their unsafe tactics –such as the insecure mines- are the cause of regular concern.
Government has issued concessions to several large gold mining corporations like Canada’s Iamgold and Surgold, a partnership between Colorado based Newmont Mining Corporation and Alcoa from Pittsburg;  the mine the ill-fated miners were working, was located on the concession Government granted Surgold four years ago.  
Crespo said that Surgold has always been taken aback by the illegal miners’ unsafe conduct.
 “The miners had illegally occupied Surgold’s right of exploration since late 2009 and during the last few months, activities had escalated to the current state in which there are more than 800 people in the area utilizing dozens of excavators.
“The situation became so serious that Surgold stopped all exploration activities in the area several months ago, over concerns regarding safety and security; that was formally notified to the proper authorities,” Crespo added. (CMC)


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