Small-scale mining (SSM) is an activity that is increasingly gaining momentum in many parts of the World. International Labour Organisation estimate that 100 million people depend on small-scale mining and about 20 people are active small-scale miners. SSM is largely practiced in rural areas by artisans who lack the requisite education, training, management skills and essential equipment. Very often the mining activities are done haphazardly with severe consequences to the surrounding environment and the health of the persons involved.
One of the main environmental and health hazards caused by small-scale mining is the widespread release of mercury. Mercury is used in extraction of gold and is in most cases released directly to the environment. The released mercury enters the drainage system and the food chain and ends up in humans where it causes multiple problems.
Notwithstanding the negative environmental and health effects, significant economic benefits to be reaped from SSM activities have recently been recognized by several Asian and African countries. Indeed, the potential of the sector to contribute significantly to socio-economic development is great. Such contributions include the decisive role it can play in: