Mercury working group updated on phase-out efforts

NWG: Some National Working Group members in discussion yesterday morning.

The National Working Group on the Minamata Convention on mercury reconvened yesterday and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock said its reconstitution presents real hope for the total phase-out of mercury in local mining.

The meeting was also attended by Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman along with representatives from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Associa-tion (GGDMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Mining Syndicate Inc, the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO), and other stakeholders.

While Trotman gave brief opening remarks, Allicock, during his remarks, noted the importance of the meeting and reaffirmed his commitment, both personal and on behalf of his ministry, to the implementation of the “highly commendable and much needed convention,” which he said has an integral role in assuring the sustainability of the environment that is vital to the protection of the lives of not only indigenous peoples, but for the protection of everyone’s livelihood.

“This convention fits perfectly into the government’s Green State Development Strategy and is one which we willingly welcome. We are all aware that this convention on mercury is a global treaty that seeks to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury,” Allicock said.

He noted that the meeting is the beginning of what he anticipates one day will lead to the total phase-out of the use of mercury in not just the mining sector, but to all facets of life in the country.

“The reconstitution of this national working group presents real hope for the completion of the National Action Plan [NAP] that will benefit all Guyanese now and the future generations to come. This is how we will make our contribution towards the establishment of a healthy green state for Guyanese. Let us leave a legacy of leading this country through this operation to a good life,” he charged.

After his opening remarks, Ingrid Sarabo from Conservation Interna-tional (CI) presented on its El Dorado Gold project, which she said is aiming to assist the country with converting to mercury-free mining by 2025 by directly involving business enterprises with a profit motive in leading the shift in the development of a mercury-free artisanal, small and medium gold mining supply chain as well as to downstream the El Dorado Gold-branded jewellery.

“At the end of the day, we want to be able to have responsible mining done and it must also be an initiative that is attractive to the miners. The plan is not only to have mercury-free mining but must be able to do so in a way that allows us to have a market for this gold that will possibly be sold at the premium price because there are those international buyers who are becoming more conscious of the need for sourcing gold from sources that have demonstrated responsible mining,” she said.

Sarabo explained that the project, which is divided into six components, started since September last year. They have since hired a team, inclusive of a safeguard coordinator and have also visited a chemical-free mining site in French Guiana, which she called an “eye-opener.”

The six components of the project are: appropriate mercury-free technologies mainstreamed in Guyana’s artisanal small and medium-scale mining sector; mechanisms for financing capital investments for better mining practices is established and functioning; markets, both local and international, established for branded mercury-free gold from Guyana; national policies and incentives for mercury-free gold drafted or revised; monitoring and evaluation; and communication and knowledge management.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also has a project on mercury and while it has not started yet, it is envisioned that it will commence in the final quarter of the year since the organisation is in the process of finalising the signing of donor contracts.

“This new project focuses and enhances the work we have been doing over the years as it relates to doing gold mining. It focuses a bit more on mercury and mercury phase-out in support of the discussions we are having here around the Minamata implementation. We understand that it is almost impossible to completely stop and immediately stop the use and release of mercury just with one click of the finger and it requires a gradual process, learning and experimenting, testing, piloting and so on to make sure it is really effective and long-lasting,” Country Manager of the WWF, Aiesha Williams, explained.

She said that it is on that basis that the project will focus on piloting, testing, demonstrating and providing solutions relating to the phase-out of mercury. It will also touch not only on the best practices at the miners’ level on the ground, but will also delve into the chain of custody and supply chain as it relates to the process from the beginning to the end, where the miners are ready to sell their gold.

“We will have incorporated experiences within this project, an approach that not only incorporates at the local level at mine sites but also on the national and regional level and a link to Suriname and Guyana in terms of phasing out [mercury],” she said, while noting that the project will be implemented with a range of local and international partners.

The WWF has also been collaborating with CI in terms of coordinating efforts and discussing how they can learn from each other and share experiences and resources.

The project is divided into three components and the first looks at the policies and national coordination. This, she said, will be similar to the meeting of the National Working Group.

“Component two is the biggest and focuses more on the technical aspects related to mining and market aspects. The interest here is to have a pilot and develop and provide solutions towards mercury-free gold extraction and having that model tested with all partners and stakeholders. The idea is to have a two-phase approach…And it’s a matter of working with the miners on the ground to work through with what works best for them,” she said, while noting that there is a general understanding that one solution will not work for different geographical areas.

A second part of component two will be looking at the market, but not only in the terms of supplying responsibly-mined gold but also having incentives for miners.

“They can’t go through all of this checking and balancing and testing and not having an incentive,” she said.

The third component focuses on the research and health aspect related to mercury and Williams pointed out that their intention is to work with academics along with miners and communities at the different pilot sites and the surrounding environs to understand the exposure while studying and testing miners, the environment, water, soil, fish in order to understand the extent of mercury contamination and pollution within the area, while finding solutions for improving mechanisms and protocols.

After the presentations, Marscia Charles, Guyana’s National Focal Point for the Minamata Convention on Mercury, gave an update on the current efforts by the government and the NAP and the role of the National Working Group.

Trotman highlighted the need for all the stakeholders to be aligned to one NAP. As a result, the group decided to meet again on Wednesday to develop a general plan.

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