Rapid Health Situation Assessment Report: Mozambique

Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is, broadly speaking, the exploitation of smaller gold deposits by individuals, small groups or small cooperatives (1). ASGM often is labour-intensive work using no or limited mechanization and may have low recovery rates. The sector is often characterized by low levels of capital, productivity, occupational safety, and limited access to land and trading markets. ASGM is practiced in over 70 countries worldwide. An estimated 10-15 million people are involved in ASGM, including 4-5 million women and

1 million children, whereas a further 80-100 million people’s livelihoods are affected by ASGM (2, 3). ASGM is an important activity in many developing countries as it provides a primary and additional source of income, particularly in rural regions where economic alternatives to agriculture are limited. The ASGM sector is estimated to contribute about 25% of the global gold production (2).

ASGM-related health hazards can be categorized into chemical (e.g. mercury, cyanide, arsenic, lead), biological (e.g. water- and waste-related diseases, sexually transmitted infections), biomechanical (e.g. traumas, overexertion), physical (e.g. noise, low oxygen levels) and psychosocial (e.g. drug abuse, stress, fatigue) hazards (4).

Many countries are taking active steps to reduce and where possible eliminate the use of mercury in the ASGM process. However, due to its low cost, easy use and widespread availability, mercury amalgamation remains the preferred method employed in ASGM to extract gold. Consequently, mercury is used in ASGM in more than 70 countries and represents the largest global demand sector for mercury, with approximately 1,600 tons per year used. ASGM is also estimated to be the largest source of anthropogenic mercury emissions to the environment (5, 6).