Fri, 21 Mar 2003

UNIDO, WHO promise to help miners

Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the World Health organization (WHO) pledged to provide financial and technical assistance to the country's local gold miners who had been using mercury in their hunt for gold.

The joint UNIDO-WHO aid package would include the transfer of technology aimed at reducing the use of hazardous materials in small-scale gold mining.

The two UN agencies also set up a project aimed at curbing the use of mercury and to monitor mercury pollution and health hazards in selected gold mining sites.

"UNIDO and WHO consider mercury pollution in small-scale gold mining as an important issue which needs to be addressed urgently," George Petersen, the WHO representative to Indonesia said during a seminar on Thursday.

He did not say the total value of the planned assistance.

Many villagers in remote areas in the country search for gold in traditional ways by using mercury to separate gold from other fragments.

Mercury is not only hazardous to human health but is also a serious threat to the environment.

The diseases caused by the use of mercury among can include problems with the central nervous system, vision and hearing disorders and brain damage to unborn children.

Most of the traditional gold miners are also actually illegal miners. Many areas in the country have been officially banned as sites for mining, let alone the use of mercury.

According to one estimate, there are around 500,000 people involved in traditional gold mining.

"Most of them are indulging themselves illegally, while the rest are operating with a very limited knowledge on the environmental degradation, pollution and health hazards," Petersen said.

Meanwhile, Dian Triansyah Djani, director for multilateral trade and industry at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the joint UNIDO and WHO project was also aimed at raising public awareness about the danger of mercury.

"People working in the small gold mining sites are unaware of the hazardous mercury pollution," Dian said.