This is the year that global warming and its causes, including emissions associated with unchecked mining, have raced to the top of headlines and become the focus of seminars and increased interest worldwide, including at the United Nations. The tiny Republic of Armenia is facing an environmental crisis of its own, this one largely a result of its own actions. Overmining is polluting water sources and making parts of this mountainous country uninhabitable. Since Independence, Armenia has dealt with a devastating earthquake, a war with Azerbaijian and blockades on two of its four borders. As a result, it has turned to almost any options it has to generate revenue, including unrestrained mining, which it practices without any type of studies or restraints.
The American University of Armenia, Center for Responsible Mining, and the young for-purpose organization ONEArmenia, are teaming up to help create data that will evolve the face of mining in Armenia. The center is firm in stating that it is not anti-mining, meaning they acknowledge that mining and mineral processing can be important to the livelihoods of communities. However, they also recognize that international best practices must be introduced to ensure the environmental, social and economic well-being of communities all over Armenia.
There are currently over four hundred active mines in Armenia, twenty-two of which are heavy metal mines. This is quite astounding considering that the country is barely the size of Belgium. For rural communities these mines present job opportunities that are much needed, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite the economic benefits and importance of the mining industry, irresponsible mining is leading to some major environmental consequences and poses risks to the health of mining communities.
Irresponsible mining in Armenia has led to human health and environmental risks such as heavy metals contamination, acid rock drainage, tailings deposits and harmful particulate emission. Pollution of this kind impacts the soil, water, plants, animals and air that communities rely on for their welfare and livelihood. Overexposure to lead is common near mining activities and causes diminished IQ’s in children, fertility problems in both men and women, as well as digestive issues and serious nervous system ailments.
AUA has launched a new initiative hoping that it will be a first step on a long path towards empowering communities, and using knowledge to manage risks and advocate for change. A crowdfunding campaign is currently underway for urgently needed environmental lab equipment that will enable scientists and communities throughout Armenia to assess the levels of five toxic heavy metals found in soil, water and food in mining communities.
Giving communities the knowledge they deserve will help everyone make more informed decisions and lead to improved practices and ultimately, a healthier environment for everyone.
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