Mining in Pakistan needs remodelling

ISLAMABAD: Implementation of sustainable and green mining practices in Pakistan can make this sector highly productive. The mineral reserves in Pakistan cover an area of app 600,000 sq. km. A large number of skilled and unskilled workforce earn their livelihood through this sector. Despite having rich mineral sources, the mining areas and host communities lack development and prosperity.

Talking to WealthPK, Muhammad Yaqoob Shah, Principal Geologist at the Global Mining Company, Islamabad, and former general manager geology at the Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC), said, “Huge benefits are earned through mineral extraction. Often, mining is done in far-off areas and it stimulates economic activities like transport, artisanal work, employment for both skilled and non-skilled persons, etc. It also provides many industrial units with a variety of raw inputs to use in the manufacture of different products. Unfortunately, a few factors are restricting this sector from flourishing, i.e. non-implementation of environmentally safe mining practices, negligence of socio-economic responsibilities of the mine leasing bodies, proper policies to reduce the post-mining impacts related to humans and the environment, etc. As soon as the resource of a mine depletes and the operation ceases, mostly the host communities, environment, and the land are abandoned and worse than before the mining begins,’’ said Yaqoob.

“Generally, mining addresses three dimensions of sustainable development, i.e. social, economic, and environmental. Mismanagement of them results in degraded landscapes. A huge quantity of abandoned industrial waste and other pollutants, e.g. mercury, commonly used in small-scale gold mining, directly release into the environment and pollute the atmosphere, causing serious health risks,’’ he said.

Yaqoob said blasting, deforestation, alteration in soil profile, erosion, dust, scattered mining waste, mine tailings, contamination of aquatic sources, noise pollution, and unavailability of proper safety measures exposing the labourers to health hazards, disturbance in ecology, habitat fragmentation, etc., were a few of many factors that make this most productive sector a mess.

“Sustainable and green mining is important for socioeconomic welfare and growth. To mitigate the adverse environmental impacts, few things are necessary, i.e. mining by using green technology/eco-friendly equipment, proper consumption of mine tailings, rehabilitation of mining sites, possible recycling, etc.”

“All illegal mining practices should be prohibited at all costs. It should also be made a mandatory part of the mining lease policy to start productive economic activities for the host community, i.e. cottage industries, vocational training, including health, education, clean water, capacity building of people, infrastructure, sanitation facilities, communication and power sources, etc. All these activities will not only help keep the economic circle regular but also rehabilitate the ecology after the mine closure,’’ he continued.

“In order to remodel mining into a sustainable and green sector, involvement of all stakeholders is important. The mining bodies earn profits. The government must make it mandatory for all existing and new mining lease holders to implement green mining and follow the Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) adopted a resolution in 2019 concerning ‘mineral resource governance,’ with the coordination of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “
To address this purpose, International Resource Panel and the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) both have conducted a global assessment to identify the major issues, improve mineral resource governance, and promote sustainable management of both metal and mineral resources. The key findings as the most focal subject were infrastructure development in the mining areas, tailing management, artisanal and small-scale mining, harmonization of governance parameters, mine waste disposal, mine closure plans, and national-level governance.’’

Yaqoob suggested that proper management will bring a new life to the mining sector by making it more productive and managing it on scientific and environment-friendly grounds.

He further suggested that a national task force and action committee should be formed to implement the framework according to the UNEA/UNEP recommendations/agenda, which will help develop Pakistan’s mineral industry in alignment with the international standards.

“In this context, promulgation of mining law, grant of new quarrying licenses only for the reserves as indicated via the titled image, and standardization of mining agreements to address all future and operational mining leases will also be helpful,” added Yaqoob.