Lovemore Lubinda

Zimbabwe will this  week hold a workshop for the development of a National Action Plan (NAP) for the artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASSGM) sector in the country towards the ratification of the Minamata Convention, as it tries to protect the environment from mercury intoxication.

Secretary for Environment, Water and Climate, Abu Matiza says Zimbabwe is determined in safeguarding people, animals, and the environment at large from the harmful effects of mercury contamination, hence need for carrying out the workshop to map out a way forward.

“The main objectives of the workshop are to raise awareness, define the scope and objective of the NAP development including the identification of key stakeholders, assign roles, coordination of NAP implementation and develop an awareness raising strategy,” he says.

He adds that the development of a NAP for the ASSGM in Zimbabwe will assist the country to develop programmes to reduce the use of mercury and its compounds, as well as the reduction of its emissions and release into the environment in accordance with the Annex C of the convention.

Mercury is a heavy metal that is widespread and persistent in the environment, and is a naturally occurring element, and can be released in the air, land water through weathering of rock containing mercury ore or through human activities such as industrial processes, mining, waste incineration, and burning of fossil fuels.

It can also be released from a number of mercury-containing products, including dental amalgam, electrical appliances such as switches, fluorescent lamps, laboratory, and medical instruments like clinical thermometers, barometers, batteries, skin lightening creams among others.

Zimbabwe was identified as one of the countries in Africa with mercury contamination sites. Studies have revealed that 70 percent of miners involved with amalgam burning were poisoned with mercury while women and children, some of them not working mercury were also found to be either poisoned with elevated mercury levels in their bodies.

Research has also shown that about 69 percent of children working with mercury and 33 percent not working with mercury had chronic mercury intoxication.

In view of the threats posed by this deadly chemical the international community developed the Minamata Convention on mercury to which Zimbabwe is a signatory in order to find a lasting solution of mercury related problems, as well as efficient use of mercury in various sectors.

Minamata Initial Assessment Project is also one of the steps being taken by government towards the ratification of the convention, aimed at facilitating the early implementation of the convention by proving key national stakeholders in the country with the scientific and technical knowledge as well as tools needed.

The Minamata Convention is an internationally binding agreement designed to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and release of mercury compounds. Zimbabwe though a signatory, it is yet to endorse the convention.