THE plight of local communities whose livelihoods are already adversely affected by siltation and pollution of rivers caused by mining activities will worsen if government forges ahead with plans to legalise the activities of gold panners around the country.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa announced last week on Thursday that government will regularise the activities of gold panners in order to increase gold output as part of efforts to catapult Zimbabwe into the top five African gold producers by 2018.
At no point in his address did Chinamasa refer to the adverse impact of gold panners on the environment and communities.
He said there were about 30 000 illegal panners as opposed to the half a million claimed in an Environmental Management Agency (Ema) report titled Zimbabwe Environment Outlook.
The Ema report states that in the Mazowe catchment area alone there are 30 000 panners and “at least 10 000 of these are found on the Mazowe River along a 10km stretch”.
Ema is also concerned that the widespread use of mercury and cyanide in gold processing poses a serious threat to the health of the communities living downstream of such activities.
“Mercury contamination is persistent in the ecosystem as the chemical is widely used by the gold panners,” Ema spokesperson Steady Kangata said in an interview. “People get affected after eating fish from the contaminated rivers. The symptoms may also present as nervous breakdown and loss of hair.”
Kangata also said that siltation leads to river diversion and in turn the river’s carrying capacity is reduced, translating to less water for both people and animals.
Studies done by Ema and independent agencies like the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association revealed that large rivers such as Mazowe, Insiza, Save, Mutare, Angwa, Umzingwane and Pote which are spread across the Mashonaland, Manicaland, Midlands, Masvingo and Matabeleland provinces are now silting as land degradation and pollution take their toll.
Kangata said that Ema advised government and other stakeholders that the way forward has to take into account sustainable development approaches.