White Volta River (Nakambé) in Burkina Faso (c) Mamadou Karama

Towards a more responsible mining sector in Burkina Faso

Header photo: White Volta River (Nakambé) in Burkina Faso © Mamadou Karama

In recent years, Burkina Faso has seen a rise in goldmining, with severe consequences for the availability of clean water. Partner organizations AGEREF, AGED and Naturama are working with government and the extractive sector to make it more responsible.  

Gold mining has been on the rise in Burkina Faso in recent years. The gold mines use harmful chemicals and large amounts of water to extract the gold. While larger companies are more likely to adopt best practices, the many artisanal small-scale gold miners oftentimes use more harmful chemicals, such as mercury, and do not purify or reuse the water. This water, along with these harmful substances, flows back into the Volta river and reaches as far as Ghana.

Artisanal goldmining makes an important source of income to 1,5 to 2 million people in Burkina Faso. In the White Volta sub-basin, it negatively affects the quality and quantity of available water. Mercury ends up in the fish and crops that people eat, affecting their health, while the lack of available water reduces crop yields. The natural vegetation and animals, such as elephants, living in the area suffer the consequences of limited freshwater.

Reducing water pollution from artisanal mining

This artisanal small-scale goldmining is often unregulated. The miners using mercury often lack knowledge of safe and environmentally responsible practices and usually have no access to appropriate technologies. Our partners therefore promote adhesion of these illegal artisanal gold miners to cooperatives. “By adhering to a cooperative, the miners receive a series of benefits, such as recognition, access to better equipment and capacity development to improve their extraction techniques and use less mercury,” Mamadou Karama of AGEREF explains. “The miners will benefit from higher yields, while at the same time reducing the risk of polluting the water they depend upon for their production. The government benefits from easier law enforcement and tax income, while nature and local populations benefit from clean water.”

Engaging the public and private sector for integrated water resource management

Yet also mining companies put severe pressure on the availability of water. Their mining operations require large quantities of water. The extraction process and the establishment of required roads and infrastructure fuel sedimentation.

In the view of key stakeholders, most of the provisions laid out in the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) plan for the Volta Basin to safeguard long-term water provision in the area, are still not applied. A training workshop by IUCN’s Business and Biodiversity Programme on the foundations of business engagement, allowed partner organizations AGEREF, AGED and Naturama to engage with mining companies and the government to express their concerns about the declining availability of clean water in the White Volta sub-basin.

It turned out companies were not always aware of the provisions laid out in the Integrated Water Resource Management plan. The CSOs encourage companies to improve their mining operations. They engage with the Burkinabe Chamber of Mines to promote best practices for mining companies and to ensure that the companies pay their water taxes.

These taxes allow the government, who is responsible for monitoring compliance with the IWRM plan, to ensure that the IWRM plan is being implemented adequately.

Safeguarding water quality and quantity

Karama stresses that the involvement of all stakeholders in the White Volta sub-basin, from artisanal small-scale gold miners to large mining companies and government institutions, is imperative to safeguard the water quantity and quality in the long run. “Operators in the mining sector are supported to shift from harmful practices to best practices. One mining company expressed the ambition to have a positive impact on the local community and is now working with AGEREF, AGED and Naturama, to develop a joint action plan to engage the surrounding communities around themes related to responsible mining and to protect the riverbanks.

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Jan Kamstra
no longer working at IUCN NL