In Liberia, a gold boom leads to unregulated mining and ailing rivers

By Varney Kamara

Liberia has abundant mineral resources and legislation aimed at preventing the most environmentally destructive forms of mining but little capacity to enforce those regulations.

In the gold mining camp of Sam Beach, Mongabay observed damaged forests and rivers as a result of poorly regulated mining operations.

Traditional landowners say they have little ability to participate in negotiations when mining agreements are made, while the community faces the environmental and social fallout of a mining boom.

The waterways that frame the town of Sam Beach in Liberia’s Rivercess County once served as a lifeline for local people, providing them with fish as well as clean water for drinking, cooking and washing.

But that was decades ago.

Today, more than 1,000 gold diggers, six licensed mining concession holders, three brokers and two large-scale mining companies — S & K Mining Corporation Limited and Gbarwor Mining Cooperative Society — are tearing up forests and rivers in search of gold.

Artisanal gold diggers encroach on surrounding forests in their hunt for rich mining pits, exposing communities to ecological disaster. In the heart of populated settlements, earthmoving equipment is used to dig mine pits, endangering the safety of more than 3,000 villagers. And the river the village once depended on is muddy and shows no sign of life within it.

“We cried for development, but they came and have dirty our water,” says Esther Zangar, a former fisherwoman. “We no longer fish, drink and cook with it.”

Once a lifeline for the community, the Wornor River has filled with mud and silt as poorly regulated gold mining proliferates in the forests around Sam Beach. Image by Varney Kamara for Mongabay.

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