December 16, 2011

Concerns over illegal mining


A surge of illegal artisanal mining has raised concern among Battambang provincial authorities as the mining activity encroached on the environment and put miners’ lives in danger.

Local people in the province are rushing to open unlicensed, small-scale mines regardless of attempts to stop the practice, Cheu Chheang, director of Battambang’s Ministry of Industry, Mine and Energy, told the Post.

“It’s difficult to control. We have cracked down on it many times but they still do it when we leave the area,” he said, adding that the only authorised miners in the area were with a Chinese company.

As the price of gold remains high, artisanal mining has become common place in Phnom Preuk district, Governor Soun Keun said. More than 100 illegal operations strew the hill sides in the area, up from only a handful the year before.

While the mining often harms the natural environment, Soun Keun said he is concerned for the health of the labourers, most of whom are untrained in mining techniques.

“They are really facing death as they dig their mines deeper and deeper,” he said.

Bun Sokheng arrived in Phnom Preuk this week with the hopes of establishing a successful mine. The initial investment in his mine could cost him up to US$10,000 in equipment, labour and land, he claimed.

After 10 year of operating mines in Ratanakkiri province and Laos, Bun Sokheng said he has never been asked to provide authorities with a licence or permit. The business, he said, has always gone unimpeded.

Pros Pov has been in Phnom Preuk for 10 days. He said he followed others to the site but doesn’t have mining experience. He said he acquired about an eighth of an ounce of gold each day, yet some of the spoils must go to miners who work for him.

Cambodians are driven into the small-scale mining industry due to the lack of job opportunities elsewhere, Chhut Wutty, an environmental activist, said. Local officials tend to let the operations continue because they know miners have few other options for making a living, he said.

But the toll on the environment is increasing, especially that on natural water resources, Chhut Wutty said. The government must regulate the use of chemicals such as mercury, he said.

“This business absolutely has an impact on the environment, causing changes in water quality even more than deforestation,” he said.

“I think the government should open up to the miners and help them operate this business for daily subsistence. But the Ministry of Mine should train them about using chemicals.”

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