Risky gold rush: Indonesia tackles illegal mining boom – by Kiki Siregar (Agence France Presse/Daily Star – June 22, 2017)


WEST TABIR, Indonesia: Hulking excavators claw at riverbanks on Indonesia’s Sumatra island in the hunt for gold, transforming what was once a rural idyll into a scarred, pitted moonscape. It is one of a huge number of illegal gold mines that have sprung up across the resource-rich archipelago as the price of the precious metal has soared, luring people in rural areas to give up jobs in traditional industries.

Now authorities in Sumatra’s Jambi province, which has one of the biggest concentrations of illegal mining sites in Indonesia, have started a determined fightback, combining a crackdown with efforts at regulation.

Declines in the price of rubber, which provided a livelihood for many in the area who had worked on plantations tapping the commodity, has driven many locals to more lucrative – and dangerous – gold mining. Iwan, a 43-year-old who works at an illegal site by the Tabir River, left his job on a rubber plantation to become a gold miner two years ago but said life was still difficult.

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Brazil prosecutors demand crackdown on illegal gold mining in Amazon’s “El Dorado” – by Chris Arsenault (Reuters U.S. – May 8, 2017)


RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Officials in Brazil’s largest state are facing mounting pressure to crackdown on illegal gold mining in the Amazon rainforest where thousands of workers are destroying ecologically sensitive land, according to the Amazonas state prosecutor’s office.

Since 2007, thousands of miners have descended upon Apui in northwestern Brazil in the so-called “New El Dorado” hoping to strike rich but in the process destroying 14,000 hectares of jungle by cutting down trees and poisoning rivers with mercury.

In a drive to close these illegal mines, prosecutors are now suing Brazil’s environment enforcement agency, the Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), and other government departments which they say have failed to stop ecological crimes in illicit mines.

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Showdown in Indonesia Brings World’s Biggest Gold Mine to Standstill – by Krithika Varagur (Voice Of America – February 27, 2017)


JAKARTA — The American mining company Freeport-McMoRan has brought the world’s biggest gold mine, in the Indonesian province of West Papua, to a standstill. The corporation is butting heads with the Indonesian government over protectionist mining regulations.

And now that Freeport has started to dismiss tens of thousands of workers, the local economy is poised to take a huge hit. In Mimika Regency, the West Papua province containing the Grasberg gold mine, 91 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is attributed to Freeport.

Freeport Indonesia abruptly stopped production on February 10 and laid off 10 percent of its foreign workers. It employs 32,000 people in Indonesia, about 12,000 of whom are full-time employees. The freeze was a reaction to a shakeup in Freeport’s 30-year contract with the Indonesian government, signed in 1991.

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Colombia’s ‘Blood Gold’ Turns Up in Everything From Smartphones to Cars – by Andrew Willis (Bloomberg News – Novmeber 16, 2016)


Deep in the jungles of Colombia, thousands of small, illegal mining operations, many under the control of Marxist guerrillas or drug traffickers, are working long hours to pull gold out of the ground. Miners are digging in out-of-the-way places such as Timbiquí and Río Quito. From there, the gold is hauled by boat, truck or small airplanes to smelters in Cali and Medellin.

Enter the international gold refiners, armed with certificates of good business practices, who buy the gold and in turn, sell to U.S. corporations large and small. Underscoring just how fraught global supply chains can be, the gold finds its way into products ranging from smartphones to cars and gold coins made by the U.S. Mint.

Corporations, buying in good faith, as well as companies that use gold for jewelry, rely on organizations whose task is assuring the legality of the gold. Many, including Apple Inc. and General Motors Co., also do independent audits of their supply chains, including gold and other metals. Despite those efforts, experts say, illegal gold slips through the system.

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Gold mining invades new areas of Peruvian Amazon – by Benji Jones (Mongabay.com – November 11, 2016) Environmental Headlines

Illegal gold mining in Peru – once restricted to the southern states – is now spreading across new territory in the northern and central Peruvian Amazon. In a report released earlier this month, Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) revealed three new “frontiers” of gold mining in the departments of Amazonas and Huánuco – regions that boast exceptional biological and cultural diversity.

Across the frontiers, MAAP detected 32 hectares of mining deforestation – an area equivalent to about 42 soccer fields. These mining scars are fresh, and relatively small, indicating that a larger-scale deforestation event can still be prevented.

“Deforestation in these cases is still in its early stages, so there is still time to avoid larger-scale damage, as in the case of [the southern region of] Madre de Dios,” the report states.

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Peru proposes state-owned bank buys gold from artisanal miners – by Mitra Taj (Reuters U.S. – September 8, 2016)


The government of Peru wants a state-owned bank to buy gold from artisanal miners in order to replace a lucrative but shady informal market, Finance Minister Alfredo Thorne said on Wednesday.

Thorne said the miners would receive a better price for their gold and would not have to pay the value added tax rate, giving them incentives to register with the government and comply with environment and labor laws.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former investment banker who took office on July 28, had previously proposed establishing a “mining bank” to buy the gold. Kuczynski said the bank could be controlled in part by private shareholders.

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Surge in gold prices brings no change in fortune for Madagascar’s miners – by Nadene Ghouri (The Guardian – July 25, 2016)


Lack of investment and regulation means life is hard for the men, women and children panning for tiny fragments of gold along Madagascar’s river beds

Miandrivazo – A drumming sound reverberates across the bridge and over the valley: the gold panners are hard at work.

Dotted along the edges of a river bed are hundreds of people, rhythmically banging wooden poles into the red earth. They are gold miners “sampling” the dry soil for the precious metal. Crouched alongside them are other workers, carefully panning piles of earth through homemade metal sieves.

Maria, 45, holds out a plastic dish of earth. “See? Here it is.” She points to some tiny fragments of what looks like glitter. “Now we know there is gold in this spot, so now my husband will continue to dig deeper to see if we can find more. Maybe we will or maybe we won’t. With this work there is no guarantee.”

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Peru Scrambles to Drive Out Illegal Gold Mining and Save Precious Land – by Suzanne Daley (New York Times – July 26, 2016)


A force of marines and rangers is outnumbered as it tries to protect the area anchored by the Tambopata reserve, one of the most biologically diverse places on earth.

ON THE BORDER OF THE TAMBOPATA RESERVE, Peru — The raid began at dawn. In four small wooden boats, the forest rangers and Peruvian marines, checking and rechecking their automatic weapons, headed silently downriver toward the illegal gold miners.

They didn’t have to go far. Around the first bend was a ramshackle mining settlement, tarps stretched over tree poles. Soon, the marines were firing into the air, the miners and their families were on the run, and the rangers were moving in with machetes.

They speared bags of rice and plastic barrels of drinking water, kicked aside toys and smashed tools before setting everything on fire. High above the Amazon rain forest, home to trees that are more than 1,000 years old, heavy plumes of black smoke spiraled toward the clouds.

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Mongolians impressed at small scale mining program in Philippines (Update Philippines – June 12, 2016)


About 15 Mongolians involved in Artisanal Small-Scale Mining (ASSM) visited South Cotabato over the weekend to learn first-hand the “best practices” of the thriving small-scale gold mining industry in the province of South Cotabato, officials said here Saturday.

Speaking during a news conference atthe South Cotabato provincial capitol, Provincial Environment and Management office (PEMO) chief Siegfred Flaviano said NGO BAN Toxics, PEMO partner in its province-wide campaign for Mercury-free mining, accompanied the Mongolians in their tour.

“They were impressed how the province managed the small mining activities and they would like to emulate it,” Flaviano said in Filipino. To show effective PEMO practices to ensure environment-friendly mining activities, he presented to visiting Mongolian miners the “Galing Pook-awarded Minahang Bayanihan” Program of the province through an audio-visual presentation which was translated by the group’s interpreter.

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Peru’s illegal gold miners back Fujimori’s vow to end crackdown – by Mitra Taj (Reuters U.S. – May 31, 2016)


HUEPETUHE, PERU – In this wildcat gold mining town in the Peruvian Amazon, the boom is over. A government crackdown on illegal mines at the end of a decade-long gold rush has shuttered restaurants, quieted the town’s muddied streets and slowed the flow of migrants from poor Andean towns seeking the jungle’s riches.

But the residents of Huepetuhe, whose town square is dominated by a golden statue of a muscular miner, see a shimmer of hope in presidential election front-runner Keiko Fujimori’s promise to decriminalize the makeshift mines at the heart of the region’s economy.

Fujimori says she will repeal laws aimed at protecting the environment that ban the use of dredges and heavy machinery by miners in rivers and wetlands. She is also offering miners cheap credit and tax exemptions while they form tax-paying businesses.

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Asian Gold Miners Use Borax to Replace Toxic Mercury – by Ben Barber (Huffington Post – November 27, 2016)


Each year tens of thousands of people are poisoned by toxic mercury spewed into the air, land and water by small-scale gold miners in Indonesia and other low income countries where production has soared as gold prices skyrocketed.

Now a U.S.-based NGO is working with a Danish government agency to substitute toxic mercury with safe borax — a chemical used for centuries in soap and other products.

Some 600 tons of mercury are released each year in Indonesia alone — more than the total mercury contamination in Japan’s Minamata Bay outbreak in the 1950s which left 1,700 dead and thousands more with neurological damage from mercury wastes.

These days, small-scale miners mix mercury with gold-laced ore to create an amalgam of gold and mercury.

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The Toxic Toll of Indonesia’s Gold Mines – by Richard C. Paddock (National Geographic – May 24, 2016)


More than a million small-scale miners in this island nation are poisoned, which is leaving children with crippling birth defects.

SEKOTONG, INDONESIA – Ipan is 16 months old and suffering his third seizure of the morning. His head is too large for his body, and his legs are as thin as sticks. He arches his back, and his limbs stiffen. He cries out in pain.

His mother, Fatimah, tries to comfort Ipan, but there’s not much she can do. A dukun, or shaman, says his soul was invaded by the spirits of the monkey, bat, and octopus. On his advice, Fatimah and her husband, Nursah, changed the boy’s name from Iqbal to Ipan and fed him tiny rice balls mixed with octopus.

“The dukun says this is why Ipan’s legs look like a monkey’s legs,” Nursah says. “Actually, I don’t believe that, but I will try anything.” Doctors say the real culprit is more down-to-earth: mercury poisoning. His parents are small-scale miners who used the heavy metal to process gold for years before Ipan was born, including while Fatimah was pregnant.

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Peru declares mining-related emergency in remote part of Amazon (Reuters U.S. – May 24, 2016)


Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has declared a 60-day emergency in a remote part of the Amazon to curb high levels of mercury poisoning from rampant illegal gold mining, the country’s environment minister said on Monday.

A growing number of studies show that residents of the Madre de Dios region near Peru’s southeastern border with Brazil have dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said in announcing the move.

Tens of thousands of illegal miners who dredge for gold in the rivers and wetlands of Madre de Dios use mercury to separate ore from rock, often handling the neurotoxin with their bare hands and inhaling its fumes when it is burned off.

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