Months after Abimbo mine tragedy, it's back to business as usual

Mining going on at Abimbo Mines months after a tragedy that left two artisanal miners dead. Though the government promised to have in place mechanism of ensuring that miners are safe, things have remained the same.

Photo credit: Kassim Adinasi | Nation Media Group.

With the dust having settled in the Abimbo mining tragedy, where two people died and six others were rescued after a shaft collapsed and buried them, operations have resumed but with no precautionary measures in place.

The December 2, 2021 tunnel collapse buried eight people, two of whom died. It took six months to retrieve the body of one of the dead men, Tom Okwach.

On Tuesday, mining was going on as usual.

The miners still display the same old habits that have perennially exposed them to danger.

Miner Samuel Owich, 45, said government officials had not fulfilled the promises they made to artisanal miners.

“All of us in these mines are using skills that we have acquired from the previous artisanal miners. When the tragedy struck last year, the government promised to train the miners on the possible ways of guarding ourselves,” said Mr Owich.

He added: “We shall only see them when we have another tragedy and that is how they have been operating. The unfulfilled promises and pledges make our government officials.”

But he noted that artisanal mining is a source of income for a majority of unemployed youths.

“We are aware of the dangers associated with our work, but this is the only source of income that we know. The mines are like our farms where we get food,” he said.

Other health hazards

Besides the dangers of collapsing shafts, artisanal miners are exposed to health threats in the mines.

“The miners depend on the air that is pumped by a generator while inside the tunnels. Others relieve themselves in the mines and this poses threats to their health. In order to help the sector give optimum output, a lot of things must change,” said Ms Maureen Atieno, a public health officer in Bondo sub-county.

Ms Atieno also said the government should provide health insurance for all the miners.

“The miners should not just undergo training on how to be safe while mining, but also get medical cover to enable them to get services in the public health facilities,” she proposed.

But Nyanza region Mining Officer Ben Bera said plans are underway to map all mines in Siaya and Kisumu and identify suitable ones.

"We have plans to streamline artisanal mining in the region. After mapping all the mines, we shall close all the unsafe ones. The process will involve all the agencies," Mr Bera said.