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Why Nigerian miners should go to church

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Greg Odogwu, [email protected] 08063601665

In 2011, more than 400 children died from lead poisoning as a result of artisanal mining in Zamfara State. Five years later, another episode of lead poisoning occurred in Niger State, this time killing about 50 children. Government, international development agencies and local civil society organisations led the process, which ensured that the epidemic was arrested and the locations decontaminated.

But, one has yet to see any robust engagement of miners and businessmen in a process for restructuring mining activities in Nigeria in a way that it would become sustainable and ensure a safe and healthy environment. From all indication, mining is still carried on without giving a thought to best practices and geo-ethics.

The artisanal miners are not organised; even the ones organized like in the case of coal mining, oil mining, and yes, water mining, the businessmen involved are rapaciously taking from the Earth without any sense of responsibility to her and to the people they find in the location of their mining activities.

Businessmen generally play by unspoken business ethics; but what about geo-ethics? That is, in a general term, observing ethical behavior while developing geo-resources. Perhaps, professionally the practice of developing and organising these sets of ethics philosophically, socially and geo-scientifically is a relatively new concept globally, and one would then expect that it could still take some time before trickling down to us.

Therefore, indigenous miners would do well to borrow a leaf from one Nigerian who has identified with the emerging field of geo-ethics: Dr Olakunle Churchill of Big Church Green, a miner and entrepreneur himself.

Although it is a relatively new branch in the Faculty of Geosciences, Geoethics is gradually assuming importance because observing ethical behavior while developing geo-resources or while dealing with geohazards, has become an urgent need in today’s society. Geoscientists have a duty to educate society on prudent and eco-friendly use of these resources, and also to increase the preparedness of society in dealing with geohazards.

Such geo-hazards in Nigeria are lead poisoning discussed above; and the first-of-its-kind tremors experienced in two Nigerian states last year.

We cannot afford to play the ostrich, saying we are so blessed by God that we are sort of ‘exempt’ from natural disasters. The truth is more logical: As we keep on taking from our God-given natural resources, the Earth is stressed, and demands all the sense of conservation and responsibility we can muster.

Take for instance, water mining – we call it ‘borehole drilling’. It is perfectly okay to dig boreholes and extract water if it is of good quality. However, extraction should be not much more than whatever water can get back into aquifer, otherwise, depth of ground water table shall go deeper and all bore well owners shall have to deepen their boreholes at extra costs. If any single individual digs a deeper bore and pumps out more water using more powerful pump, the water table will fall and some shallow bore holes shall go dry.

In India, the geographies where ground water table has gone too deep, any further exploitation is stopped by the government and no more boreholes are allowed. In other areas in the country, rainwater harvesting is encouraged so that aquifers can get water which tube wells shall extract round the year.

In South Africa, citizens are required to register for boreholes and this entails ground water specialists to check and verify if is well suitable for drilling.

Just like in other turfs of socio-economic activities, people need a pioneer or reference point in order to test, accept or replicate commercial trends and innovations. Nigeria’s Churchill could become the poster boy of ethical mining in our sub-region.

Many years, mining was considered as a non-sustainable activity. This is because mining includes the physical removal of a non-renewable resource from one site for further processing and use. The resource itself is thus not sustainable. Sustainability of mining is a relatively recent concept, which embodies geoethical behavior towards the society close to the mining area. The concept cannot be left to academics and activists alone to champion.

The issue is simple. The society close to mines is considered to have several types or aspects of capital, such as natural resources capital, educated people or human resources capital, infrastructure, employment opportunities, health services, productive farms, a clean environment, and social institutions. All these are what we can call the social capital, which contributes to a stable social order and community wellbeing.

Due to mining activities in its neighbourhood, the natural resources capital is permanently lost, with possible partial loss in other aspects of capital, like a clean environment. Sustainable mining incorporates compensation for the society towards these losses by increasing several other capital assets mentioned above.

During the operation of mining, various aspects of the capital of the society can be enhanced by the mine developers, like education for children, job opportunities for elders, health services at a company hospital, and the infrastructure for an electricity supply, roads and markets. These would continue during the several years or decades of the mining operation.

However, even after active mining stops, sustainability for the society can be achieved by effective rehabilitation processes.

Shrikant Daji Limaye, Director of Ground Water Institute, India-based NGO, discussed an exemplary scenario in his treatise entitled “Observing geo-ethics in mining and in ground-water development: An Indian experience” (published in Annals of Geophysics 2012).

“One of the coastal cement factories in India used a farmer friendly approach in ground water use. The farmers in the surrounding villages were worried that the factory would pump a lot of ground water from its mining lease areas at high levels, for the construction and operation of the factory, thereby promoting sea-water intrusion into irrigation wells of the farmers located at the lower levels closer to the sea.

“The factory authorities declared that they would not pump any ground water from the mining area. The factory entered into an agreement with the farmers that the farmers should supply water to the factory from their wells rather than using it for irrigation and the factory would pay them in cash on a daily basis, which would be much more than what they could earn from the irrigated crops.

“After the factory started working at full capacity, it used hot gases in the chimney for sea water desalination for industrial use. The factory also promoted ground water recharge by using the lowest levels of the mine pits as ground-water recharge ponds during the monsoon rainy season. This increased the water availability in the wells of the farmers, and also checked the intrusion of saline water in the aquifer.”

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