03 Jul 2017 Story Chemicals & waste

Driving positive change in Burkina Faso’s mining sector

More than 600,000 people in Burkina Faso rely on small-scale gold mining to earn their living. The vast majority of these artisanal miners use mercury and other toxic substances in their work, a practice that has serious consequences for the environment and human health.

But economic evidence has convinced parliamentarians to adopt policies to protect both public health and the environment. The new data come from the Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI), which is run jointly by the UN Development Programme and UN Environment.

PEI studies have shown that unsustainable chemical use in Burkina Faso’s artisanal mining sector costs the government $24.2 million every year. Much of the cost is related to deteriorating human health from contaminated drinking water and prolonged exposure to chemicals (see the PEI Policy Brief, in French, for 2012 and 2013).

Better managing these mining chemicals could result in 0.35 per cent increase in Burkina Faso’s Gross Domestic Product and improve the health of 850,000 people (PEI Burkina, 2011 & 2013). Further benefits can be gained by opening up any negotiations on mining concessions to people from local communities as well as experts on the environment, gender and social equity.

These and other findings helped to convince parliamentarians to open an inquiry into mining titles and the social responsibility of mining companies. Following the inquiry, a monitoring committee proposed a new labour code for the mining sector, which aims to improve working conditions while fighting losses and fraud related to the commercialization of the gold.

With support from PEI, which has worked with the Government of Burkina Faso since 2009, authorities have also strengthened environmental laws and developed law enforcement measures to safeguard people’s livelihoods and health. For example, local development plans are now placing more emphasis on sustainable chemical management.

"Our country has immense gold resources. We need to exploit this sector without jeopardizing the environment,” says Mathias Manti Hien, the former president of Burkina Faso’s Regional Council of the Southwest Region. “This means putting in place sound chemicals and waste management practices and avoiding the use of cyanide or mercury.”

The PEI findings have also supported local leaders in their discussions with companies on the control of chemicals. However, it can be difficult to convince businesses to change their ways; some companies have disputed the findings.

Learn more about the chemical threats in Burkina Faso in this 8-minute video (in French)

More information on the Initiative’s work in Burkina Faso

For more information: Moa Westman: Moa.Westman[at]unep.org or Cherif Kane: cherif.kane[at]undp.org

Media enquiries: unepnewsdesk[at]unep.org