A recent report from Reuters suggests that the soaring price of gold has led to a highly dangerous rise in illegal mining.
Gold prices have trebled over the last five years. As a result, mining corporations have found it worth moving into remote and sometimes unstable parts of the world. Sometimes, this leads to them encroaching onto the territory of artisanal miners, while other times local people are attracted into an area by the activity of the big company.
“Companies have realised this is their biggest social problem … and it is growing all the time … there are mines that are getting 6,000 people (illegal miners) on their sites a week,” said Kevin D’Souza, mining engineer and technical director at the consultancy Wardell Armstrong.
The result can be violent confrontations between mine security and illegal miners. Moreover, since illegal mining is unregulated, it is often carried out in extremely dangerous conditions – fatalities are not uncommon.
At least six illegal miners, aged between 14 and 20, died at AngloGold Ashanti’s Obuasi mine in Ghana in the last month, officials have said.
In the long run, the solution will have to come through land sharing programmes in conjunction with regulation of small-scale miners. But how exactly this will be implemented is far from clear.