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The selection of countries was based primarily on the use of mercury for artisanal mining and the associated impacts on water bodies of global significance. The initial participating countries are Brazil, Sudan, Tanzania, Indonesia and Laos - follow the links below the map to their respective pages where information specific to those countries can be viewed. Additional countries where the Global Mercury Project has been working in various extents are Guyana, Venezuela, Guinea, Ghana, Mozambique, Suriname, the Philippines and Zimbabwe. Below the map, main regions where artisanal mining is spreading - South America, Africa and Asia are briefly discussed with reference to international water bodies being affected by artisanal gold mining. At the bottom of this page a table displays annual gold recovery and mercury emissions from a few of the mining sites the Global Mercury Project has been working with.

South America - The Amazon Basin
The Amazon Basin is the largest drainage system in the world with an area of about 6 million square kilometres. The Amazon River has a total length of 6400 kilometres, which is slightly shorter than the Nile. Stretching almost 2760 kilometres from north to south at its widest point, the Basin occupies a great part of Brazil and Peru, significant parts of Columbia, Ecuador and Bolivia and a small area of Venezuela. Almost two-thirds of the Amazon’s main streams and by far the largest portion of its Basin are within Brazil. More than two thirds of the Basin is covered by an immense Amazon Rain Forest which represents about half of the Earth’s remaining rain forest and constitutes the largest reserve of biological resources. Artisanal gold mining activities in the area are probably the most in the world with one of the largest area, Tapajos in the Para State occupying an area of up to 2.9 million hectares. At the peak of the gold rush in the 1980s, it was estimated that nearly 1.0 million people were directly involved in the activities, with 400,000 of those being in the Tapajos area alone. Available documentation shows that nearly 1,000 tonnes of mercury were dumped into the Amazon Basin during the 1980s and nearly 130 tonnes are currently dumped annually.

Africa - River Nile Basin, Lake Victoria, Zambesi River
Within the participating countries of the African Region, the significant International Water-bodies include the Nile River system, Lake Victoria and the Zambezi River system. The Nile River system is composed of the Blue Nile (Abbai) River that originates from Lake Tana and the White Nile that rises from Lake Victoria. Sudan occupies a major part of the River Nile basin. Along its course (6825 km), the Nile drains a total area of 2.96 million square kilometres from the Equator up to the Mediterranean coast in Egypt. Areawise, the Nile basin represents one tenth of the African continent. Mining along the Nile covers nearly 2,000 km2 in the Southern Blue Nile region with mine workings developed in old river terraces along the riverbanks and its tributaries at the foothills of the Ethiopian highlands. It is estimated that nearly 120,000 people are engaged in these activities. On the other hand, Lake Victoria which has an area of more than 70,000 km2 is Africa’s largest lake and second largest in the world only to North America's Lake Superior. The Lake, which is surrounded by one of the most highly populated areas in the world and is shared by Tanzania (51% of the Lake area), Uganda (43%) and Kenya (6%), is a source of employment for nearly 30 million people. The Lake Victoria Goldfields which cover almost 200,000 km2 is estimated to employ nearly 300,000 people and produce nearly 70% of the country's total gold production. Nearly 12 tonnes of mercury are released to the environment in Tanzania alone. More than 50% of artisanal gold panning activities in Zimbabwe are carried out within the Zambezi River system (more than 2400 kilometres are panned) and its tributaries. The Zambezi flows along the northern and Southern borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia respectively before cutting across central Mozambique on its way to the Indian Ocean. There are about 350,000 gold panners in the country with as many as 300 panners concentrated in every kilometre of the widely panned sections of the Zambezi River system river and releasing nearly 12 tonnes of mercury annually to the environment. Within the six participating countries, nearly 2.0 million people are directly involved in artisanal mining activities and a number of those whose livelihoods depend on these activities in one way or another is over 10 million.
Asia - Kahayan River, River Mekong

River Mekong in Laos and River Kahayan in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia are the significant International Waterbodies within the Asian participating countries. The River Mekong which is about 4,500 kilometres long and is a life-stay for almost 50 million people and their cultures sets out at the Qinghai plateau in Western China before flowing into Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Although the upper portions of the river are characterized by turbulence, the lower Mekong is more placid, and the annual flooding supports a biologically diverse ecosystem. In Laos, alluvial mining activities are carried out as seasonal activities during the dry non-agricultural season mainly by dredging on the River Mekong and its tributaries. Up to 3,000 miners have been found at any one time working on River Mekong. The Kahayan River, is the largest river in Central Kalimantan and drains directly into the Java sea and thus with effects to Singapore, the Islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and others. Most activities are based on alluvial operations within the river systems with a few mining hard rock gold veins. However, even those in hard rock mining transport the ore to the rivers for processing. The Kahayan River in Central Kalimantan and the Tapian River in North Sulawesi are known to have a high concentration of miners per kilometre length. It has been reported that more than 2,000 illegal miners would converge on single mining site following a reported gold recovery. In Indonesia where artisanal gold mining activities are carried out either through village cooperative units or through illegal operations and are found in the provinces of West and Central Java, Sumatra, Central and East Kalimantan, North Sulawesi and others, nearly 180 tonnes of mercury are released to the environment annually.


Au produced (t/a)
Hg lost (t/a)
São Chico
Luang Prabang, Laos
Blue Nile, Sudan
Rwamagasa, Tanzania
Kadoma, Zimbabwe