Fatal Landslide at Artisanal Gold Mine Site in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia Highlights the Need for Formalization of the Sector
By AGC HQ - February 25, 2021
Updated: 26 February 2021
The evacuation process of miners buried by landslides at the illegal mining site in Burangan Village, Ampibabo District, Parigi Moutong Regency, Central Sulawesi, Thursday morning, February 25, 2021.
ANTARA / HO / Aslan Laeho
At present, 23 artisanal gold miners have been buried in a landslide that covered an artisanal gold mining site, Parigi Moutong Gold Mine, near Buranga Village in central Sulawesi, Indonesia on Wednesday night, with six confirmed dead, and 18 rescued, but these numbers continue to change. Rescue operations were still underway at the site of Friday, with 108 locals and rescue personnel deploying excavators to pull victims from the landslide one by one.
As reported by CNN Indonesia, the National Search and Rescue Agency of Palu has confirmed a total of 26 people were caught in the landslide. Of these, The West Australian is reporting 16 have been rescued, while at least 6 have been confirmed dead. The Indonesian TV network MetroTVNews agency puts the number of dead at 5, but that number could rise as rescuers dig further into the pile of earth and rubble. Survivors have been rushed to nearby community health centres for treatment.
The cause of the landslide remains unclear. January to March is the peak of the rainy season in many parts of Indonesia. Officials in Java and South Sumatra have recently issued alerts warning of both flooding and landslides. These already dangerous conditions may have been exacerbated by the miners’ own rudimentary mining techniques. According to the Parigi Moutong Regency Communication and Information Agency, the miners were operating without a permit in an area not licensed for gold mining. Miners operating in such informal conditions often forego basic safety measures in their efforts to obtain gold quickly without attracting attention from authorities.
The site of Parigi Moutong Gold Mine, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia
There are thousands of artisanal gold miners in Sulawesi. The vast majority of these artisanal and small-scale gold miners operate without a formal mining permit for the areas they are mining, and so are considered illegal under the law. Many such miners in Sulawesi are entirely dependent on gold for their daily income, particularly now with the Indonesian economy still strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with the need to make a living, these miners have often have little choice but to mine, no matter how dangerous the conditions.
“It’s terrible,” said Richard Gutierrez, PERS Project Manager and Minamata Expert “These miners have to make a living, but many or maybe even most of them lack the training and the knowledge to mine safely.”
As part of a solution to this challenge, the Artisanal Gold Council is leading an on-going project at two locations in North Sulawesi, about 900 kilometres north of the site of the landslide. Funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, supported by the Government of Indonesia, and implemented nationally by AGC’s local partners Yayasan Emas Artisanal Indonesia (YEAI) and Lentera Kartini, Program Emas Rakyat Sejahtera (PERS), aims to help formalize (legalize) and professionalize artisanal mining operations and, in doing so, improve miner health and safety practises to avoid future tragedies like the one in Buranga Village.
Formalizing artisanal and small scale mining operations, which includes securing mining and environmental permits, is a key first step in making mines and miners safer. Without the longer-term security that comes with a mining permit, it is difficult for miners to raise funds and invest in often-expensive infrastructure needed to avoid tunnel cave-ins, slope failures, and other catastrophic work-place accidents. Working together with Indonesian authorities, the AGC is helping to improve access to small-scale mining permits (locally known as Izin Pertambangan Rakyat or IPR) by making the application process available at the PTSP, the Indonesian one-stop shop entity established to centralize permit processing and facilitate investments and business in the provinces. Previously, the PTSP one-stop shop did not provide this service.
The PERS project in North Sulawesi is also working to increase the number of formal miners and mining groups by encouraging miners to form or join artisanal miner cooperatives and BUMDes. During the course of the project, membership in the miners’ cooperative at the Tatelu project area has more than doubled, from 52 miners at the start of the project to over 100 miners now. The PERS project is also helping miners to obtain government ID cards required for access to essential services such as medical care, education for the miner’s children, and application for an IPR.
As well, the PERS project is assisting miners with understanding and implementing the OECD Due Diligence guidelines, a key step for gold miners wishing to access legal, international gold markets, allowing them to obtain better prices and establish credibility with financial services. This is part of another key component of the project, which is to help miners access needed finance for improvements. In particular, improvements in productivity through the purchase of high gold recovery technology, and making essential investments in making their mines safer. As part of this effort, the project is developing Social Enterprise structures for cooperative members, and has put together an investment plan for financial sector actors to help them evaluate the risks and benefits of investing in small-scale mining projects.
Finally, the Artisanal Gold Council and YEAI are making great strides through PERS in eliminating the use of mercury. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, and its use in artisanal mining can have long term effects on miners’ health and on the environment. At the North Sulawesi sites, the project has begun field trials with a new type of ore processing system that completely eliminates the use of mercury.
Initial results of this new system show that it can outcompete mercury-based approaches used by local miners by recovering more gold more cheaply. While trials of the new system were suspended due to COVID-19, the AGC/YEAI have been successful in re-starting this work in late 2020 and is now in the process of establishing an ongoing relationship with local North Sulawesi producers so that the system becomes broadly adopted.
Taken together, the AGC’s and its local partners are eliminating mercury use, helping miners to operate professionally and legally and assisting them to access finance. These efforts collectively provide a roadmap towards a safer, healthier, and more environmentally responsible artisanal mining sector in Indonesia.
“The landslide and the miners’ deaths at Buranga village was a very sad tragedy,” said Dr. Kevin Telmer, Executive Director of the Artisanal Gold Council. “It shows the challenges miners continuously face, where the sector needs to go, and how important it is to get there. Let’s build an artisanal gold mining sector where the likelihood of this kind of accident happening is very much smaller. We’re off to a good start in North Sulawesi.”
Formalization and professionalization of the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector in Indonesia, and world-wide, will actively prevent accidents like this from occurring in the future. But to do so, governments and other stakeholders must clear the pathway to legitimization by offering a transparent, simple, and just process to informal miners so that they can achieve legalization. These informal miners and their importance within the gold sector and the economy as a whole should be recognized.