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Miners get Sh800 million from UNDP for modern equipment

By Nathan Ochunge | September 14th 2021
James Namayi harvests gold sand from River Yala in Emakuche village in Kakamega County. Unlike in Ikolomani where residents dig more than 100 fit deep, locals in Kwisero get the gold sand from the shores of River Yala. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

At least 300 artisanal miners in Kakamega County have been identified to receive a Sh800 million grant from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The funding aims to help the beneficiaries procure modern equipment for extracting gold and eliminate the use of harmful mercury at the gold mines.

Beneficiaries are artisanal miners who risk their lives every day in deep gold shafts due to a lack of sophisticated equipment and tools of the trade.

Many small-scale gold miners within the Lirhanda Corridor, which is rich in gold deposits, use mercury amalgam to speed up the process of extracting gold from its ore.

Lirhanda Corridor stretches from Kakamega, Vihiga, parts of Kisumu to Siaya counties.

Augustine Orenge, a Journalism and Mass Communication graduate from Presbyterian University enters into a gold shaft in Buvasi Village in Vihiga County in July 2021. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

According to Patrick Makhule, the Secretary-General of the Kakamega County Artisanal and Small Scale Miners, the UNDP grant will benefit the first batch of ten self-help groups.

“The groups comprising 30 members each have been approved to benefit from the grant. Each group will get Sh80 million, translating to Sh2.67million per member. The money will be used to procure modern equipment to discourage the use of mercury in gold extraction,” said Makhule.

“You must have an existing registered self-help group by the social services department to benefit from the grant, and it’s a five-year program being implemented in phases. The remaining groups will be benefiting from the second grant.”

Aggrey Mulayi, a gold miner dries gold sand in the sun in Rosterman, Kakamega County. The miners risk their lives to enter the shafts which sometimes collapse killing them and injuring others. In May 2021, a gold shaft collapsed at the mining site killing 5 people and injuring others. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

Makhule said the move is to ensure artisanal and small-scale gold miners use mercury-free and environmentally friendly methods of extracting gold.

“These miners expose themselves to grave health risks since they don’t have safety gears such as earplugs, safety glasses, masks, gloves and gumboots when extracting gold. They also use bare hands in handling mercury, which in the long run makes them lose their fingernails,” said Makhule.

“If a pregnant woman comes into contact with high levels of mercury, it can cause problems for her and her unborn child, as well as affecting the nervous system,” he added.

This comes when the county government of Kakamega, in partnership with the national government, is constructing a Sh100 million gold refinery plant at Lidambitsa in Ikolomani Sub-county.

Records from the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining shows that Kakamega has over 1.31 million ounces of gold deposits along the Lirhanda Corridor valued at Sh171 billion.

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