The government is taking serious measures to rescue the Segoma Forest Reserve on East-Usambara Mountains in Mkinga District, Tanga Region, from destruction by illegal miners.
This was said yesterday by the Minister of State in the Vice-President’s Office (Environment), Dr Terezya Huvisa, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian.
The Guardian team which visited the reserve noted the illegal activities which have destroyed vegetation cover, wildlife resources and undermined the ecosystem, including Zigi River, the main source of water supply for Tanga City and its suburbs.
Despite the fact that she was not aware of the level of destruction in the reserve, the minister said the government would step up actions to protect the reserve from the illegal miners, Huvisa said.
“The government will definitely work on the reports to ensure that both the reserve and the environment are protected,” the minister said.
He added: “I will consult the minister responsible for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekiel Maige, to see how best we can address the problem.”
“Outcome of the consultations will be made public,” stressed Dr Huvisa.
Energy and Mineral minister William Ngeleja was not available for comment, but his deputy, Adam Malima, said the government would work on the reports on illegal mining at the reserve.
When contacted, Tanga Regional Assistant Catchment Forest manager Giliad Nehemia said the government is aware of the ongoing illegal mining at Segoma Forest Reserve, adding that measures are being taken to arrest then situation.
The regional authorities, according to Nehemia, conduct regular patrols in the reserve, but they have failed to keep the small miners out of the reserve.
“We are aware of the environmental destruction caused by the small scale miners in the forest reserve. We conduct campaigns to kick them out of the reserve but when the operation ends, they come back to continue with illegal activities,” he said.
Speaking in an interview with this paper at Segoma forest, village chairman Khalfan Shauri, said uncontrolled illegal mining has reached a critical point, citing unemployment among villagers living around the reserve, as the main cause of the problem.
“Many people in Segoma village and its vicinity have no jobs…they depend on agriculture, which does not help them meet their basic needs… In the circumstances mining has become the remaining option,” Shauri said.
In the search for the precious minerals, which he said was done at night, the small scale miners, mostly youth, destroy the environment and disrupt the infrastructure, including the water supply systems from Zigi River.
Efforts by the village administration to stop the practice have failed due to poor arms.
“We use rudimentary weapons compared to the illegal miners who are better armed...on top of that they operate in groups, making it difficult for us to capture them,” Shauri said.
He called on the government to provide a vital support to the village authorities (in terms of modern security weapons, patrol gear and security systems), for halting illegal mining activities in the forest reserve. The government should also assist the villages in finding alternative sources of income, so as to transform their lives.
“It has taken a long time since the government promised to give the villagers funds so as to establish other income-generating projects like bee-keeping, livestock keeping, modern agriculture and poultry production. It is sad to learn that it has not respected this promise,” he said.
Forest Condition, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer Justine Gwegime from Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) points out that mining activity at the reserve would have a bad impact on the ecological system in which mercury is often used to separate gold from sediments and rocks.
He said the effects of poisoning can be widespread, especially when the waste flows into Zigi River.