EDITORIAL - Buried alive, again

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Buried alive, again

As of late yesterday afternoon, seven people had been confirmed killed while about 10 others remained missing in a landslide that struck the gold mining area of Monkayo town in Davao de Oro. Authorities said among those who died were five children including a one-year-old boy, who were attending a religious activity on Mt. Diwata when the landslide occurred.

The search for the missing had to be called off by mid-afternoon yesterday due to strong winds and heavy rain, which threatened to unleash more landslides. Incessant rainfall over the past few days, which weather experts attributed to a shear line affecting the Davao region, loosened the soil on the mountain, also called Diwalwal, where gold panners operate.

Dubbed the “gold mountain” since the discovery of gold in its creeks in 1983, Diwalwal has been hit regularly by deadly landslides. By now, surely local officials know that incessant rainfall can trigger landslides, and can order timely evacuation from high-risk areas.

The government has largely failed in its efforts to regulate small-scale gold mining in Diwalwal, which has caused soil erosion and river siltation. Unregulated gold processing in the area has also contaminated the river with toxic mercury and cyanide. The risks have not deterred small-scale miners, who live with their families on the mountain that is believed to be one of the world’s biggest sources of gold.

Health and environment experts have warned that the mercury fumes and dust from gold ore processing pose serious health risks including mercury poisoning to the miners and their families, especially children. But the community in the gold rush area rapidly expanded in the early years of the gold boom, and thousands of families remain.

Since the start of the gold rush, hundreds of miners have died during landslides on Mt. Diwalwal. With money to be made from gold, however, many see the risks to their personal safety and health as hazards of the trade. It is up to the government to make the miners’ pursuit of their livelihood safer.

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