Residents demand action after seven die in abandoned mines

Suna Oruba location Chief,  Charles Ouma,  measures the depth of an abandoned gold mine as residents watch. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

A stroll around Kogweny and Oruba villages in Suna West constituency in Migori county reveals a startling danger that residents have to avoid in their everyday activities.

Next to several homes and footpaths, gaping holes filled with water lie unguarded. The holes are abandoned gold mines by artisanal miners in the area as well as a private mining company.

Walking along the narrow footpaths in the village elicits fear. Only the brave who have mastered the routes can pass without fear of slipping into the abandoned quarries.

And now, residents are up in rage demanding action to be taken on the abandoned mines which they say have turned into death traps.

A number of people have sustained injuries while others have lost their lives after accidentally falling into the quarries. Residents claim that about seven people have lost their lives in the last six months after falling into the abandoned quarries.

Two weeks ago, a 12-year-old boy became the latest victim after he drowned in one of the quarries.

Irene Ochieng, the mother to the deceased is pleading with the government to take action while admitting that she is yet to come to terms with the loss of her child.

"It is saddening that my child was just well and had gone to play with his mates before I received news of his death," Mrs Ochieng said.

Peter Ochieng, the father to the Grade Four pupil said he was away in Kericho when he got a call that his child had drowned in the gold mine.

"They are supposed to fence it off and cover it. If they leave it this way, more deaths will be witnessed. The owner of these mines doesn't see our lives as important. He has never taken action despite being summoned by the chief," he said.

Oruba location chief, Charles Ouma, said the area has about 10 gold mine sites that were dug by a private investor.

The chief, who confirmed that they had retrieved seven bodies from the gold mines in the recent past, said three cows also died in the mines when there was heavy rains.

The chief said the investor mined in the area until 2022 and left the site uncovered. He said that efforts to reach the investor and have him comply with fencing off or covering the mines have hit a brick wall.

"I personally talked to him to come and cover it but until now he has taken no action. A Grade Aour pupil from Assar Johanson primary school died, and cows have drowned here. A woman was recently rescued here as she came to fetch water," Ouma stated.

County Executive for Environment, Rahab Robi, said the department will team up with the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) to ensure action is taken.

"We are going to take immediate action. It's not all about getting the money and losing lives. We are going to ensure that everything is in place and safety comes first," Ms. Robi said.

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