Australian experts present report on mined out closure & rehabilitation of sites in Sierra Leone

By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya

The Environment Protection of Agency of Sierra Leone is not relenting when it comes to issues of protecting the country’s landscape and environment especially when there are many mining companies engaged in open pits mining and without land reformation and reclaiming of the mined out area. The management and staff of the environment protecting arm of the country will always go out and seek expertise from experienced people in other for them to show their expertise and make eminent contribution towards protecting the Sierra Leonean environment.

Presently, a team of experts consisting of Dr Peter Erskine and Daniel Franks from the Queensland University in Australia have undertaken a 5-day field assessment of 5 industrial mining sites and 3 artisanal mining sites in Sierra Leone. The team from Australia was supported by other Sierra Leoneans from the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone, the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources and UNEP. The mining sites they visited included; London Mining, Koidu Holdings, Sierra Rutile, Sierra Minerals operated by Vimetco, Cluff Gold as well as artisanal diamond mining in Kono and Tongo Fields & artisanal gold mining in Baomahun Gold. Dr Peter Erskine is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation at the University of Queensland, Australia. He has many years of experience in applied research and consulting in forest restoration, mined land rehabilitation and mine closure in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Laos, Uganda and Vietnam. His mission in Sierra Leone is supported by the Australian government (AusAID) and he is sharing his experiences of mined land rehabilitation with the EPA and the United Nations Environment Program.

The Executive Chairperson for the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone, Madam Jatou Jallow said the objective of the reclamation/rehabilitation process is to restore a mining site to an acceptable satisfactory condition by eliminating unacceptable health hazards and ensuring public safety restoring the sites to a condition that is visually acceptable to the community and reclaiming the areas impacted for future use in agricultural purposes.

Madam Jatou Hallow also said that reclamation will help preparing the site to be amenable to support vegetation, removing any contaminated soils, ensuring physical stabilization of the soil through a combination of smoothing and contouring slopes, replacing overburden and topsoil and vegetating. The rehabilitation process will also ensure that final drainage of the site does not adversely affect neighbouring properties.

Madam Jatou who is always seen championing environmental issues said reclamation operations should be carried out concurrently with extraction and as such a practical after use of the site should be considered in the pre-excavation planning. She indicates that rehabilitation of mined out areas provides ecological, economic and social benefits to the community, and non rehabilitated disturbed areas deprive community from benefiting from their land after mining and added that in other for communities to benefit from their land after mining, it is necessary for mining companies to rehabilitate their mined out areas. She thanked the experts for taking their time and carry out research in their country.

According to the experts, the purpose of the trip was to support the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone encourage progressive rehabilitation of mine sites in the country.

A brief report on their finding was made public during a presentation at the conference room of the Ministry of Lands Country Planning and the Environment on the 26th of March 2012 in the presence of representative from mining companies and environmental stakeholders.


Madam Jatou Jallow, Executive Chairperson for the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone

According to the experts, they find out that the economics of mining require that rehabilitation be done presently and find out substrates at many sites which are capable of supporting vegetation and the climate of Sierra Leone is capable and favourable for vegetation. They also discovered that burning presents challenges during establishment and there is significant scope for widening of species used. They also discovered that a number of mining sites they visited present significant challenges for legacies and current programmes of the companies and find out that there is need for artisanal rehabilitation demonstration projects.

In their presentation, the experts pointed that many companies such as the Sierra Rutile have no progressive rehabilitation with hectares of land being destroyed. The Sierra Rutile Company is also notorious of using acidic substances which is affecting community people and even within the confines of their constructed shadow baby ponds in the township of Rutile. The researchers also indicate that the London Mining which is mining iron (Fe) ore and processing tailings in high landscape in Lunsar Town also has no areas rehabilitated while the Cluff Gold operating in the Baomahun Gold site has also not yet rehabilitated any land and are using chemicals such as cyanide and has high rate of AMD risk of waste material. The researchers reaffirmed that during their process of monitoring in the sites, they worked with mining companies as well as members of the public in the mining areas. More companies will be researched in the near future.

The Deputy Director for Planning Policy and Research at the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone, Mr. Momodu Bah on behalf of management and staff of his agency thanked the researchers and the attendants for the presentation. He said reclamation of mined out areas in Sierra Leone is very important at this time. He confirmed that the experts have vast experiences in mined out research and vegetation programmes adding that their findings and recommendations will be followed.

Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya is an environmental journalists and reporter for the Standard Times Newspaper,

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