BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
PARLIAMENT has moved to ratify the Minamata Convention on Mercury, with legislators taking turns to condemn the use of the highly toxic element in gold extraction because of the serious environmental and health dangers it poses.
Zimbabwe signed the convention in October 2013, but needed to ratify it through a parliamentary process to become a full party and be bound by its obligations.
Major highlights of the convention include a ban on new mercury mines, the phase out of existing ones, the phase out and cut down in mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions into air and on releases to land and water, and the regulation of the informal sector comprising the artisanal and small-scale gold miners.
The convention also deals with interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste, sites contaminated by mercury as well as health issues.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mercury is one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern.
Chegutu West legislator Dexter Nduna said a mercury free technique was safer for miners, their families and communities.
He also said that might help miners market their gold at higher prices on the world market, adding that Ghana and Mozambique had achieved high rates of gold recovery without the use of mercury.
“This also benefits their health and the health of their communities and the environment.
“However, the requirement was enforced at a time generally the Zimbabwean community was not prepared to adopt such methods in the artisanal mining community which is large and needs formalisation and management,
“Banning mercury in other countries was achieved due to their small mining communities. They are not as large as ours as we are endowed with ubiquitous amounts of mineral wealth which includes a lot of gold.
“In my constituency alone, there are more than 40 gold mines and the cost of mercury which is about $85 per kg is an encouraging factor to its use oblivious obviously to the dangers that come with the use of mercury,” Nduna said.
Nduna said before ratification of this very important convention, it was necessary to formalise the sector by way of easy regulation.
“The sector has more than 500 000 artisanal miners and only 10 000 registered miners, of that figure 2% of the miners that are resident in Zimbabwe are registered.
“The challenge will be the regulation of the 98% of those that are in the mining sector who are not only artisanal but are also gypsies and nomadic; they hop from one place to another. So formalisation of these is important.”
Mutasa North legislator Chido Madiwa said ratification had a lot of benefits.
“I have realised that most of the people who are into artisanal mining, who are small-scale miners and are exposed to mercury, are women.
“I am sure ratification of this convention is an advantage, so we cannot delay the ratification of the convention.”
Makoni North member of Parliament James Munetsi said ratification of the convention would help Zimbabwe reap a lot of benefits.
“It will allow Zimbabwe also to do some research on other alternatives other than the use of mercury.
“What else can we use that is less harmful to human beings and animals but still carrying out the same process that mercury has been doing?
“It will also allow us to improve the monitoring systems in the country about the use of mercury.”
“It will also allow some flow of funds to support the reduction of the pollution by this substance and as such, I stand together with those who are for the ratification of this Minamata Convention,” he said.