The Central African Republic's ministry of mines and geology has suspended four Chinese mining companies operating in Bozoum on March 25 for failing to protect the environment.
According to a local media outlet’s reporter, Father Aurelio Gazzera, a missionary in Bozoum, says the affected areas include sections of the Ouham River.
In photos and videos taken by Gazzera, the Ouham River looks more like a construction site than a body of water, its levels low and its banks severely damaged.
Gazzera said Chinese mining companies exploring for gold have set up around a dozen excavation sites in Bozoum and the surrounding area in recent months.
They build earth-filled dams to deviate the flow of the Ouham so they can excavate the riverbed. Then they use bulldozers and power shovels to reach the dirt, sand and gravel below, which they sift to find gold.
“This method causes catastrophic damage to the environment. The river is in ruins. The banks are nothing but mountains of gravel and holes filled with water. The water is extremely dirty now, and locals still have to use it to wash themselves and sometimes to drink. People living in the nearby village of Boyélé started getting skin irritations after using the water. They now have to travel 10 kilometres to Bozoum to get large containers of water,” the reporter states.
Gazzera condemned the damage inflicted by the mining companies and the lack of government action
On March 25, the ministry of mines and geology ordered the Tian Xian, Tian Run, Meng and Mao companies to cease work until further notice.
A senior official in the ministry said the decision was not related to Gazzera's post.
“Several other companies have been sanctioned for mining land not covered by their permits over the past year. HW-Lepo was fined 10 million CFA francs, or around €15,000, in July 2018 for its operations near the town of Yaloké and others for their mining activity in Nana-Mambéré prefecture close to Bozoum.
“At least one of these companies, Industrie minière de Centrafrique (IMC), still appears to be active in Bozoum, said Gazzera, who obtained a purchase order for file dated February 22 on "IMC in Bozoum" letterhead.