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IVORY COAST – Bishops warn of illegal gold mines and see dangers to health

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Yamoussoukro (Agenzia Fides) – In Ivory Coast, as in Ghana, illegal gold mining is a problem that endangers the health of residents and harms the environment. And as in Ghana (see Fides, 16/11/2022) in Ivory Coast the bishops call on the government “to intensify the fight against the illegal exploitation of gold”. This appeal is included in the message of the Ivory Coast Bishops’ Conference (Cecci) for the 26th national Day of Peace, which is observed in the country on November 15th.

The bishops recall that illegal mining in Ivory Coast has spread rapidly in recent years, leading to a catastrophic deterioration in general living conditions. “The uncontrolled onslaught of illegal gold miners is not without consequences for the places where they settle and poses serious public health problems, as the effects of mercury use are detrimental to the population, which is constantly exposed to mercury”, the bishops said, adding that the destruction of forests and crops and the pollution of groundwater are the major environmental damage caused by these activities.

Meanwhile, serious clashes also erupted with police trying to prevent these illegal activities. For example, on October 13, riots broke out in Kokumbo, killing five people and injuring 22, including six gendarmes and four forest officials.

Another consequence of the “gold fever” sweeping many Ivorians (but also many prospectors from neighboring states and even China) is the dropping out of school by young people attracted by the prospect of easy profits. In Bengassou, in the east-central part of the country, more than a thousand students have dropped out of school to try their luck in the illegal Bocanda mine. This emerges from a comparison of the registrations from 2021 to 2022. Added to this is the exploitation of minors who are employed in the illegal mines.

Another problem the bishops point to is land grabbing, described as “another threat to development and food security” in Ivory Coast. “The massive purchase of agricultural land by some foreign powers is a challenge that affects everyone, especially the government. This practice has been denounced by several NGOs and a number of peasant unions as a new form of agrarian colonialism,” the bishops stress. “Faced with this model of foreign investment, we call on our governments to stand with the peasants and say that they too create wealth and therefore need to benefit from public protection”, the bishops concluded. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 17/11/2022)

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