Ethiopia: Companies Long Ignored Gold Mine Pollution

(Nairobi) – A company operating a gold mine in Ethiopia, Midroc Investment Group, and the Swiss refinery Argor-Heraeus that sourced its gold took no action over media reports about pollution from the mine for years, Human Rights Watch said today. An assessment carried out at the Ethiopian government’s request found that local residents had experienced serious health effects. Midroc resumed operations, apparently with a license from the government, but without any apparent steps to reduce pollution even though the government had said it was suspending its license until pollution issues were resolved.

The Ethiopian government suspended the Lega Dembi industrial gold mine’s license in May 2018 following protests over pollution and its health impacts. Scientific studies initiated in 2018 found that residents were exposed to toxic metals, violating their rights to health and to a clean, healthy, and safe environment. The government said it would not permit the company to resume the mine’s operations until the issues were “resolved” and the toxic waste “no longer poses a threat.” However, Human Rights Watch research found that the mine recommenced operations around March 2021 without any apparent steps taken to reduce pollution.

“The Ethiopian government, by allowing the Lega Dembi mine to reopen without pollution reduction steps in place, is violating the right to health of children and adults living nearby,” said Juliane Kippenberg, associate child rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should suspend operations until measures have been taken to ensure that harmful chemicals in the water and soil do not exceed international standards, and that people harmed by the pollution obtain compensation and care.”

Residents living near the mine, located close to the town of Shakiso in Guji Zone, in the Oromia region, have for years complained of ill-health and disabilities, particularly in newborn children.


Photo: | Tom Gardner

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