People living downstream at Metapona river in North Guadalcanal are fearing for their lives and are calling on the government to allow St Barbara back to resume its operations to deal with the tailings dam.
The plea was made following reports the dams are overflowing after last month’s cyclone and mass flooding.
An assessment done by a team from the United Nations at Gold Ridge late last month also calls for urgent action.
Speaking to the paper in reaction to the report North Guadalcanal chief Benedict Garimane said people in the area are having sleepless nights because of fear in case the tailings dam collapse any time soon during an earthquake or heavy rain.
They wanted St Barbara to deal with the dams before another disaster strikes, he said.
“We are worried that if there is another heavy rain it will cause water to rise up and overflow from the dam.”
Mr Garimane claimed that following a number of earthquakes and landslides the the waterways have been blocked which poses more danger to the dam and the people living down below.
He added the dam also contained various dangerous chemical which is not good for people’s health.
“Its important that the Gold Ridge landowners council, government and St Barbara must work together to deal with this situation now.”
Following the assessment the United Nations team has recommended close monitoring and immediate action for a controlled lowering of water levels of a gold mine tailings dam in the country following recent flash floods.
The dam itself was found to be currently stable despite the extremely high water levels, but in acute need of monitoring and management. Only by continuous monitoring and controlled lowering of water levels can the threat that an overspill or breach posed to downstream communities and the environment be minimised.
In early April, flash floods and heavy rains elevated water levels in the Gold Ridge Mine tailings dam 30km southeast of the capital Honiara, potentially affecting around 8,000 people in downstream communities.
A United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team was deployed on 23 April in response to a request by the Solomon Islands Government to assess the risk of contaminated tailings water breaching the dam as well as to formulate recommendations to safely prevent such an event.
The independent team of technical experts, in close cooperation with national ministries and community representatives, conducted several site visits and chemical analyses to assess the tailing dam’s stability and the potential risks posed by the tailings water.
“We provided recommendations to local authorities to immediately prepare for the dewatering of the tailings dam,” said Ms. Emilia Wahlstrom, UNDAC team leader.
“At the same time, we need to continuously monitor water levels, dam stability and water quality in order to avoid risks to nearby communities and the environment.”
Due to the time needed for such a controlled process, preparations will need to start immediately in order for it to be completed well ahead of the next rainy season starting in November.
Assessment outcomes and recommendations on immediate and longer term actions have been shared with the Government. These include on-site management, monitoring programmes and contingency planning.
The UNDAC team was deployed by the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit with the support of the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism. The team departed last week.
BY JOY BUAOKA