Artisanal and small-scale miners, many of whom operate illegally, have limited equipment and expertise at operating in hazardous conditions and can create social and environmental impacts as well as place their own health and safety at risk. We recognize that no single solution will entirely address this issue as long as there is cultural esteem associated with artisanal mining, along with unemployment, poverty and buyers for illegal products. However, we believe that a multi-pronged approach that includes security risk management, government cooperation, stakeholder engagement and socioeconomic development for alternative livelihoods is essential.
PT-FI uses controlled riverine tailings management to transport tailings and other sediments to a designated area in the Lowlands and the coastal zone called the Modified Deposition Area (ModADA). Stimulated by quick financial returns and knowledge of where gold can be found in the tailings’ river, approximately 4,150 artisanal panners were operating in the Lowlands and 450 artisanal panners the in Highlands during 2019. About 70% of Lowlands panners come from outside Papua,the Moluccas, Sulawesi, Java, Madura and Flores. Highlands panners mostly come from local communities and Highlands ethnic groups who live in the Timika area (e.g., Lani / Dani, Damal, Moni, Mee and Nduga).
Artisanal and small-scale miners, many of whom operate illegally, have limited equipment and expertise at operating in hazardous conditions and can create social and environmental impacts as well as place their own health and safety at risk. Challenges related to the presence of panners, levee maintenance and other earthworks associated with managing the ModADA continue.
We recognize that no single solution will entirely address this issue so long as there is unemployment, poverty and buyers for river gold considered illegal by the government. However, we believe that a multi-pronged approach that includes stakeholder engagement, security risk management, government cooperation, and socioeconomic development for alternative livelihoods is essential. In this regard, PT-FI Lowlands operations and community teams (Security, Tailings and River Management, Environment, Government Relations) regularly coordinate with the local Mimika government to determine strategies for effective risk management and engagement with artisanal miners based on location and timing of operational plans. This coordination is important to help reduce the potential for pedestrian safety incidents.
Operational changes at PT-FI have had a significant impact on panners and the gold they can recover. Starting in late 2018, operations at the Grasberg open-pit mine decreased as part of a two-year transition to underground mining, with operations expected to come to an end December 2019. With a significant drop in production, there was a concurrent reduction in recoverable gold for panners. PT-FI’s Community Liaison Officers and third-party contractors in the field proactively socialized these operational changes with the artisanal gold panners to manage their expectations, encourage them to seek alternative livelihoods and minimize risks to the operations and to the panners themselves. Ongoing information sessions with the panning community have resulting in sustaining constructive mutual relations and providing the mechanism for updating the artisanal miners on changes that might impact their panning yields. PT-FI’s field team also held regular information sessions with artisanal miners to inform them in advance on areas where PT-FI will operate heavy equipment thereby increased artisanal miner safety by reducing their proximity to PT-FI operational areas.
Finally, the potential use of mercury by illegal gold panners remains a concern in the face of production decreases. As a result of PT-FI’s regular monitoring for mercury use via routine environmental monitoring programs, mercury has not been detected above natural background levels in the estuary ecosystem. PT-FI also maintains a continuous air monitoring system for mercury in the town of Timika. Since 2010, mercury has been detected at times and at elevated levels in parts of the town where gold shops are present. In response, PT-FI educates local gold shop proprietors about the environmental and health risks of using mercury. PT-FI Community Liaison Officers are routinely in the field to socialize the health and safety risks of mercury use to artisanal gold panners.
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