Artisanal gold mining

by Luca Catalano Gonzaga

Indonesia is both highly vulnerable to climate change and also the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, when taking into consideration the deforestation of Borneo’s rainforest. (UK Unicef Report 2015 The land which the gold hunters rip open today in search of the most precious metal, was once covered by a luxurious forest. In the villages of Tumbang Tariak and Tumbang Miwan, in the Indonesian Island of Borneo, many are those who challenge the law – the extraction of gold is considered an illegal activity – and their own health. The administrative legislation has been bent enabling the corruption of the public officials who turn a blind eye to whom they were supposed to control. The search for a little Eldorado of their own is the purpose of many families, and children too, around here: a few years of hard work suffice to earn as much as needed to be able to leave this desolate place, full of mud and many poisons, to buy a house in town and start a new life there. In the Gulung district alone there are 10.000 gold searchers. That is, if possible. The “Informal” miners, – as they are commonly called- men, women and children, do not have access to sophisticated technology and they use mercury to extract gold, mixing the mineral that contains gold with water, in order to form an amalgam. Immediately afterwards, the mix is heated to remove mercury by evaporation while the contaminated water is thrown into the Kahayan River that crosses the surrounding villages. The whole water table becomes contaminated. Children drink water polluted with mercury, the same that is used to irrigate the cultivated fields thus poisoning the whole food chain. Mercury kills. And yet the search for gold does not stop before the wounds inflicted upon nature, which here seems to be only a distant memory. There are no trees, long ago uprooted to dig without mercy . A land that has become a permanent swamp because of the jet of the water pumps used by the miners to bring all detritus to the surface. And this is the most delicate and risky stage of the extracting process. In 2015 alone 24 people have lost their lives submerged by the mud, because the walls did not hold and suddenly collapsed. After the selection of the debris and the inconsiderate use of mercury, the gold is separated from the other materials, weighed and valued. (text by Luca Catalano Gonzaga)