UNDAC team assessing mine tailings dam in the Solomon Islands

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 23 Apr 2014

(Honiara, 23 April 2014): A three-person United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team has arrived in the Solomon Islands to assess a gold mine tailings storage facility following flash floods and heavy rains in the region.

There are concerns rising water levels in the dam, located about 30 kilometres from the capital Honiara, may have weakened, potentially placing around 8,000 people in nearby villages at risk. In addition, the site contains chemicals common to gold mining facilities.

“We are here to support the Government by conducting an independent assessment of the stability of the dam and by taking samples for chemical analysis,” said Ms. Emilia Wahlstrom, UNDAC team leader. “There are a number of concerns at the site and for the thousands of people who live in neighbouring communities.”

On 14 April, Dr. Melchoir Mataki, Chair of the National Disaster Council and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology (MECDM), sent an official request to the UN Resident Coordinator in Fiji to provide technical expertise and support to the Government.

Following the request, the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit and the European Union Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) assembled a team of independent experts to assess the potential dangers of the tailings dam weakening, potentially resulting in a toxic spill of hazardous chemicals from the gold extraction processes, such as cyanide and arsenic.

Two technical experts from the UN and the Netherlands arrived in Honiara on Monday 21 April and a dam integrity expert from Sweden joined the team today. The first joint field trip to the tailings dam is on Thursday 24 April and will include experts from the Environment and Conservation Division of MECDM, an independent Environmental Adviser of the downstream communities, as well as representatives from OCHA’s Regional Office for the Pacific.

The team is supported by the European Commission Community Mechanism for Civil Protection and will remain in the Solomon Islands for two weeks to conduct assessments and prepare a report for the Government.

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