Gold Mining and the Community
Dirty gold mining has displaced indigenous communities and heightened political tensions throughout gold mining regions. Dirty gold mining has also brought health concerns and land disputes to communities surrounding the mines.
Lack of access to basic health services is a major challenge in remote and rural gold mining communities. The work routine of gold miners contributes greatly to health problems. Typically, men live in gold mining camps for a month or two at a time, working 12-hour days, seven days a week. At the end of a 6- to 8-week shift, the men rotate out of camp to their homes for two weeks of rest. These long periods away from families have led to the rise of commercial sex workers in small villages near the mining areas. HIV infections are then spread into the general population when miners infect their spouses and unborn children.
High rates of HIV infection have been recorded in every gold mining country, especially South Africa where some mines have reported one in three miners infected.
Land use conflicts are a common occurrence in the gold mining industry. Mines require a significant amount of area to operate while surrounding communities rely on that same land for their livelihoods. As gold becomes more scarce, estimates predict that at least half of all gold mined from 1995 to 2015 will likely come from populated land, increasing the likelihood of such land use conflicts.
Indigenous peoples in developing countries have a particular challenge in negotiating their land rights. In many countries, national law does not recognize indigenous peoples as owners of the lands they live on. Governments often do not consider the historical, cultural, or legal rights of indigenous peoples when negotiating with foreign mine developers. In fact, even when surface land rights are clearly titled to indigenous groups, governments will sometimes sell subsurface rights to mining corporations as a loophole to reach the soil containing the gold.
In 2004, Peruvians won a major victory against the world's premier gold mining company and their open-pit mine at Yanacocha, when they successfully defended Quilish, a nearby mountain, from being drawn into the area of excavation. Fearing Quilish's desecration and destruction, thousands of local people took action against the mine. According to the New York Times, women and children were arrested, tear gas was thrown, and many were hospitalized after clashes with the police. Ultimately, the Newmont Mining Company withdrew from Quilish but holds the Yanacocha mine to this day.
Tangled Strands in Fight over Peru Gold Mine (New York Times)
Behind Gold's Glitter: Torn Lands and Pointed Questions (New York Times)
Dirty Metals (No Dirty Gold)
When new gold mines open, surrounding communities may benefit from new jobs, but often may lose their long-term livelihoods when dirty mining leaves their lands ruined. For example, since the 1990s, the Bergama community in Turkey has objected to a gold mine in their region owned by Eurogold, a multinational corporation. The community says the mine was installed illegally in a prime agricultural district when agriculture is the mainstay of the local economy. In fact, the annual production of cotton, tobacco, tomatoes and olive oil in the Bergama district was estimated to be $7 million higher than the total amount of the Eurogold investment. For the local community, the mining activity poses an urgent threat to their livelihoods and sustainable way of life.