Cyanide Plants in South Kordofan State: Human Life is a Price for Gold Extraction
After South Sudan’s independence and the Sudanese government’s loss of oil revenues from the South, gold has become a major resource for the country’s budget, and as a result Sudan’s gold production has increased steadily. According to the Sudanese Geological Research Organization, in 2017 gold production reached 105 tons per year. This volume of production is significant, even in comparison to China, which is the largest gold producer in the world, producing 455 tons per year, or the United States, which produces 209 tons per year. Sudan’s gold production is very high given the fact that Sudan’s land mass is equivalent to about one sixth of that of China and one fifth of that of the United States. This volume of production puts Sudan in third place for gold production in Africa, after South Africa and Ghana. Despite this high production and its steady increase, gold production has not stabilized or developed the Sudanese economy. This is largely due to government corruption and mismanagement of the gold mining sector in Sudan, as well as a result of the fact that a substantial percentage of the gold mining activities is controlled by warlords. These realities alongside a resultant loss of confidence in the government’s laws and procedures governing the sector, has led to the spread of traditional mining in Sudan. Traditional mining employs more than two million citizens, producing about 80% of the gold extracted in Sudan.
Traditional Mining in Sudan and the Use of Cyanide
Traditional mining is carried out by excavating the soil that contains gold. Then the soil is milled and treated with mercury, which extracts about 30% of the gold in the rocks. The left over soil is then treated with cyanide to extract the remaining gold. The waste, or soil left over after the first treatment with mercury, known as “karta”, is moved to factories or labs that belong to companies that purchase the karta from private mines.
This process results in highly toxic industrial wastes, that produces various mineral salts. Traditional miners, small companies and gold labs dispose of these wastes by pouring them directly into valleys and streams, leading to heavy pollution in the environments surrounding the private mining areas, with long term consequences.
Cyanide is a highly toxic and lethal substance that is used as a chemical agent in lethal injection executions in some western countries. Once the cyanide enters the body of a human being, it prevents it from transferring oxygen from the blood to the rest of the body, leading to a rapid death. A lethal dose of cyanide is estimated at 0.2 mg.
Gold mining in South Kordofan
Southern Kordofan is one the states in Sudan richest in gold. While many companies are involved in mining and their work is regulated by laws and policies on large and medium-sized enterprises, artisan mining is also widespread. According to statistics mentioned by the governor of South Kordofan State, Adam al-Faki, in his statements during his visit to the Bajun mines in the district of Kadeer, Some of these are located in the areas of Miri; West Kadogli; East Dalanj; Merifain near Abu Jubayhah; Meridian; Hajjar Zarq and Karn; Alrasaris; Hjayrat and Bardab; Bajun; Al-Nadeef; Qurud; Toro and other areas in the state.
This large number of traditional mines has led to production of large quantities of mercury-treated soils (karta), which in turn encouraged many investors to establish companies and factories specialized in karta treatment, using highly toxic cyanide to extract the remaining gold in the waste. The government of South Kordofan, following a decision from the federal government in Khartoum, granted a number of companies the right to set up cyanide factories in the state, without announcing the names of these companies or their number. During interviews with activists in south Kordofan state, SDFG was able to obtain the names and owners of the following companies that have already set up cyanide processing factories in South Kordofan State;
- Dalanj factory in the Al Daleema area, which belongs to Al-Ashqar Company, owned by the retired head of Security and Intelligence Services, Brigadier Khalid Al-Ashqar;
- Kadogli plant in the Al-Shaer area, owned by Al-Tawasul Company;
- Al Akhdar Factory in Abu Jubayhah, owned by E’timad Company;
- Alrasaris factory in Al-Tadamun, owned by Lahah Mining Company;
- Aldqaim factory in Al-Tadamun, owned by Lahah Mining Company;
- Mreifain factory, which is located 20 km southwest of Abu Jubayhah city which is owned by E’timad Company;
- Taqola factory in the Talodi area, owned by Al-Hadaf Mining Company (not related to Al-Hadaf Company for Security Services, as its owner explained in a press release);
- Liri factory in the Umm Douwal area, owned by the governor of South Kordofan State, Issa Adam Abkar;
- Bloula factory in the Abu Jubayhah area;
- Kalouqi factory in the Al-Humaid area, 20 km north of Kalouqi city.
There are also several other factories whose locations are not known because of the lack of visible large machinery on their premises. Activists committees against the use of cyanide have reported that there are cyanide factories on remote private lands. The gold extraction process in these factories depends mainly on the construction of large tanks, and these can be erected easily in closed lands and where the karta can be easily be transferred.
The construction of these factories in the South Kordofan State was clearly rejected by the local community, due to the severe hazardous effects of the cyanide used in extraction operations on humans, animals, plants and the environment. As a result, the state government acting on the request of companies, has made agreements with traditional administration leaders responsible for allocation of land. According to local activists, the government has provided financial incentives and bribes to these traditional leaders. However, these bribes did not curb the resistance of the local community to these factories. Resistance committees against the use of cyanide were formed in various localities and led the resistance in various ways, including through the media and field work. In the eastern region of South Kordofan, activists chased away the governor Issa Adam Abker, during his visit to the Liri region, forcing him to flee the angry crowd on a motorbike. This incident pushed the government to deploy the central reserve police, known in the region as “Abu Tira” to suppress the agitated crowd.
In Kalouqi, Qadir locality, a cyanide factory’s machinery, buildings, the home of the commissioner, his car, and the Office of the Security Intelligence Service were burned down. As a result, all armed forces were redeployed out of the area forcing the government to dismiss the commissioner, Musa Younis, and appoint Sadiq al-Zubayr in his place. The dismissed commissioner had issued a verbal decision, prior to his dismissal, to shut down the factory, but the decision was not heeded by the factory management.
In Talodi, the police station and a company’s machinery and vehicles were also burned. The resistance committees in the area of Dalanj staged a protest in front of the house of the chief (nazir) of Al-Hawasma. Also, more than 4000 flyers were distributed in markets and other public spaces. Anti-cyanide committees were able to mobilize a large number of citizens, including some members of the State Legislative Council and traditional administrations in the South Kordofan State.
The popular resistance forced the government to shut down five factories (in Dalanj, Talodi, Kalouqi, Tirtir and Liri) and to accept the convening of a workshop on the dangers of using cyanide, organized by the Center for Peace Studies at the University of Dalanj. However, activists believe that the shutdown of some factories is a temporary measure by the government to absorb the anger and resistance of the population of these areas. There are also leaks from sources close decision makers supporting the idea that the government is considering the reopening the closed factories and is prepared to make commitments relating to the use of more environmentally friendly materials. However, activists believe that these factories cannot operate properly without the use of cyanide.
Environmental and health effects of cyanide use in Southern Kordofan State
According to anti-cyanide activists in South Kordofan, the effects of using cyanide can be summarized as follows:
- Activists in the area reported an increase in the number of miscarriages in the state. The total population of the city of Dalanj is 37,113 and has reported 40 cases of miscarriage in a period of three months, in addition to many cases of stillborn births.
- Congenital deformity of many newborn babies in the affected areas. In the area of Abu Jubayhah, 118 cases of congenital deformity were recorded, while 12 were recorded in the City of Balula. In Abu Jubayhah, 17 cases of prenatal fetal malformations were recorded through tests conducted on pregnant women. While this eventuality could be attributed to a host of factors, but activists dated these increases to the establishment of the Cyanide factories.
- There has been an increase in numbers of deaths related to mercury and cyanide in mines and factories. The number has reached 50. This number is expected to increase, as there are more workers currently being treated in various state hospitals. Many of these patients are in critical condition due to the inhalation of the hydrogen cyanide gas which is formed during gold extraction. Many patients experienced difficulty breathing, leading to death, in addition to the appearance of skin lesions and rash.
- Many animals died as a result of contamination of water and pastures with cyanide. The estimated number of dead cattle in the state is at least 500, however it is believed that the figure is higher.
- An unknown number of wild animals have been found dead by citizens in different places as a result of cyanide poisoning. These animals come out at night and drink water from the ponds of the factories, which are contaminated with cyanide.
- Large numbers of wild birds have also died, including demoiselle cranes; European turtle doves; chlamydotis; dabbas and the rare bird the Sagittarius serpentarius.
- Cyanide factories have affected the natural and seasonal journeys of the Hawazma, Awlad Hemeed and Al Kawahla tribes, who have moved northward and southward, depending on the season, for for hundreds of years. Companies set up factories in these tribal areas, because of the availability of water required for gold processing, which in turn forces these tribes to abandon historic areas fearing for their lives and those of their livestock. Instead, they have headed to areas in South Sudan that suffer from insecurity and instability. They were attacked by armed gangs, who robbed 5,000 cattle in February 2017 and 10,850 cattle in February 2018. cattle.
- The social fabric of the state has been undermined. Conflicts have broken out over the land between the tribes, because of the financial temptations and bribes against access to land that the government and companies offered to the traditional administration. For example, a conflict broke out over the land in the Dalanj area between Ajanag and Hawazma tribes. In Kadogli, a conflict broke out over the land of the barley area in which the plant was built between the Arabs (Rawawqa) and the Kadogli tribes. In Abu Jubayhah, a conflict broke out between Kenana Hameed tribes over the lands of the Merifain area.
- Surface water in the state has been polluted as a result of the release of water mixed with cyanide around the factories after the completion of the gold extraction process. The contaminated water was carried to many areas with rain waters in autumn through creeks, especially Abu Habl creek, which reaches the Tendalti area in North Kordofan State.
- Water mixed with cyanide has leaked into the groundwater.
- The resistance campaigns have not yet reached their main objective of stopping factories from using cyanide in the state, and this will require more extensive work.
- The government and companies are wooing the traditional administration with financial inducements and bribes, making the resistance more difficult.
- The dissemination of false information by the government on the introduction of environmentally friendly agents in the gold process as a pretext to reopen closed factories has made the work of the resistance very challenging.
- Coordinating efforts among all movements resisting the use of cyanide all over Sudan to increase their effectiveness;
- Exert efforts and solicit help from experts to come up with comprehensive solutions that would address the problem, rather than accepting temporary solutions provided by the government such as moving the karta factories away from the populated areas, which practically just transfers the problem to other areas;
- Exert more effort to overcome the media blackout imposed by the government using the state of emergency imposed in the state as a cover;
- Establish a credible database about cyanide factories, their impact on human beings, animals, plants, soil and wildlife;
- Mobilize local, regional and international environmental and wildlife organizations to highlight the threat to the environment and wildlife in the state, and to pressure the government to shut down these hazardous plants;
- Mobilize public opinion to pressure the government to create laws that protect the environment and to strictly apply them;
- Train youth who are active in resisting these factories on how to organize, plan and strategize their resistance efforts.
 “Sudan gold production reaches 105 tons,” Sudan Tribune, 26 December 2017, available at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article64348