Illegal small-scale gold mining in Indonesia

There are many similarities in small-scale, illegal gold mining in the Philippines and Indonesia, and almost anywhere else. Like the use of mercury to extract the gold, the environmental and health damages, unmitigated mine tailings due to unprofessional practices and secretive work.

See this story from Indonesia Expat.

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“Illegal gold mining does not only involve local citizens and businesses. In mid March, two Chinese citizens were deported after local police officers in Solok, West Sumatra, found that the pair, who had overstayed their visa, had been illegally mining gold.

But apart from the plunder, the cost to local habitats has been high. According to Baranews.comseveral illegal gold mines in Maluku have destroyed the environment. Extensive deforestation has left the area prone to landslides. A 300-metre long crack running up a 500-metre hill in the area suggests another serious slip is in the offing.

Still, illegal mining has brought some benefits. Some 2000 braved hazardous work conditions to take up jobs in illegal mines in Gunung Botak, Maluku alone, presumably because they had few alternatives for work. Perhaps because of this as well as payoffs to local officials, government has been slow to shut the mines down.”

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In another story, from The Star Malaysia.

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“The government is facing an uphill struggle to clamp down on the industry however. Since the introduction of the “People’s Mining Area” initiative, only one area has successfully applied for a permit.

Authorities have sometimes faced retaliation when they attempt to crack down.

After some people allegedly involved in trading illegally-mined gold were arrested in Jambi last year, the local police station was set on fire in a suspected revenge attack.

Activists believe that going after the miners themselves does not really tackle the root cause of the problem, and authorities need to catch the wealthy financiers.

“It’s hard to stop illegal mining here as long as the people who finance it are not known, and have not been caught,” said a local environmental activist, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

But campaigners say perhaps the biggest challenge is that so many in an area with few employment opportunities have come to rely on illegal gold mining.

“This is all I can do to earn a living,” said miner Iwan.”

The same lesson almost anywhere — rural poor with very little choices in livelihood are drawn in illegal and risky work of small-scale gold mining + high use of mercury. Many governments’ ban-bureaucratize-over regulate-mining policy is actually contributing to this adverse result. Since it is difficult, costly and very bureaucratic to become a big, legal gold mining firm, people resort to small but many, illegal mining operations.

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