PUBLIC pressure is mounting on the Government to shut down operations at Barrick Gold Corp’s North Mara Gold Mine in Tarime District, Mara Region pending an ongoing investigation into reports of potentially deadly health hazards caused by the mine.
Officials say the Government is considering suggestions that Barrick Gold should be ordered to halt production at the mine to allow room for a more thorough probe into the causes of possibly toxic pollution of water sources surrounding the mine.
’’There appears to be a shift in Government thinking on how to deal with the situation. Senior Government officials are already looking at proposals for a complete shut down of the mine - at least temporarily,’’ a Government source told THISDAY.
It is understood that several members of the parliamentary natural resource management & environment committee are in favour of the proposed mine shut down.
The Government is said to be particularly under growing pressure from members of parliament and communities around the mine to take the step.
A high-level delegation comprising Cabinet ministers and MPs has already visited the area immediately surrounding the mine that is said to be bearing the worse effects of the alleged pollution.
The Minister of State in the Vice President’s Office (Environment), Dr Batilda Buriani, told THISDAY in an interview yesterday that the issue of the alleged toxic pollution of Tigithe River through North Mara gold mining activities is ’’very complicated.’’
She said blood and other samples from villagers reported to be already displaying symptoms of the pollution have been taken to the Government Chemist Laboratory Agency and health centres for analysis.
Results of the various tests being carried out are due out within the next 10 days, Dr Buriani said.
’’The situation is very complicated ... Whether or not to shut down the mine is not the issue (of concern right now). Our priority is to ensure that we contain the health problems that result from the seepage of dangerous chemicals from the mine,’’ the minister told THISDAY by phone from Mara Region.
She said the allegations of pollution are still being investigated, thus declining to be drawn into making any conclusions.
’’We have not issued an official statement regarding the alleged contamination of the water. What I can say right now is that the Government is seriously working to contain the current problems,’’ she emphasised.
A number of MPs have backed demands by villagers residing nearby for the closure of North Mara mine operations.
Moshi Urban legislator Philemon Ndesamburo (CHADEMA) called on the Government to halt the mine operations temporarily pending ongoing investigations, saying the villagers appear to be paying a deadly price as the mining activities continue unabated.
’’It is quite strange that the Government fails to safeguard the safety of its own citizens, for the sake of embracing so-called investors,’’ Ndesamburo remarked.
’’The Government should immediately close down the mine while ensuring people already affected by the pollution get proper medical care,’’ he added.
Karatu MP Dr Wilbrod Slaa, also from the opposition CHADEMA, called for urgent compensation and relocation for villagers so far affected by the alleged pollution.
’’In developed countries, Government ministers are actually forced to resign when such pollution nightmares occur,’’ Slaa noted.
A good number of villagers living near the gold mine owned by Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp. have already displayed dangerous signs of exposure to pollution in the form of water contaminated with various chemicals allegedly flowing out of the mine and into the nearby River Tigethe.
The villagers accuse the mine management of causing fatal health hazards to human beings, livestock, and land in Kebasula Ward, Tarime District where the mine is located.
They say more than 30 people and hundreds of heads of cattle have died in recent weeks as a direct result of the contaminated water. These reports have not been independently verified.
Barrick Gold has dismissed the pollution allegations as baseless, saying Kebasula Ward – situated about 30 kilometres from the mine – is too far to be vulnerable to any seepage from the mine’s waste pond.