South Africa’s Tailings Dam collapse highlights need for global regulation

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The collapse of a tailings dam in South Africa earlier this month has spotlighted the need for binding global regulations for facilities used to store mining waste, investors and industry leaders said.

A dam containing liquid mine tailings from a waste disposal operation near the historic Jagersfontein diamond mine in Free State province erupted on Sept. 11, releasing a flood of mine slurry that washed away homes and cars, killing one person and injuring dozens.

Two people remain missing after the dam collapsed, according to the Free State provincial government.

The disaster has raised questions about who should be responsible for monitoring the tailings dams in South Africa and around the world.

The Jagersfontein dam burst follows the Brumadinho residues Nearly four years ago, the dam in Brazil collapsed, killing hundreds of people when a Vale SA dam collapsed.

In the wake of that tragedy, the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management was launched in 2020, with the aim of setting binding standards for all tailings dams to follow.

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But the standards, supported by the United Nations and several leading pension funds, have yet to be adopted by many of the world’s mining companies and host countries.

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), a mining industry group that includes Rio Tinto Ltd., BHP and other major international mining companies, said the global standard could reduce the impact of fragmented or inadequate regulation.

“South Africa is not unique in the sense of a patchwork of different regulations and laws governing the management of residues,” ICMM Chief Executive Rohitesh Dhawan told Reuters in an interview following the Jagersfontein disaster.

The South African government, mining industry and experts are still updating the country’s waste code to bring it in line with the global standard, the Minerals Council of South Africa said. Industry experts say this would provide clearer rules for tailings management, including facilities such as Jagersfontein.

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For example, the experts say the global standards require a clearer accountability and accountability structure than the current mine tailings code in South Africa.

The South African government has not responded to a request for comment.

Jagersfontein Developments said it operates its processing facility under the guidance of relevant experts and with the aim of complying with best international practices at all times.

Dhawan said all 26 ICMM member companies should meet the global standard by a target date of August 2023. He said ICMM members are committed to meeting the UKTN despite a shortage of qualified auditors needed to provide independent third-party validation of companies’ compliance with the standard.

However, many of the world’s mining companies are not ICMM members.

Investors should exert more pressure as they have a duty to ensure mining does not negatively impact communities, said Rev. Andrew Harper, chief executive at Methodist Church’s Epworth Investment Management, which is investing £1.1 billion ($1.24). billion) in assets and holds shares in Anglo American Plc and Rio Tinto.

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“We are asking these companies to start looking for this material. We demand it, and then we ask the citizens to go to work under the toughest conditions and just leave them a legacy of risk and fear,” Harper told Reuters.

“How can we not be moved that people are paying the price of their homes and their lives to satisfy our hunger?”

($1 = 0.8882 pounds)

(Reporting by Nelson Banya, additional reporting by Helen Reid; editing by Ernest Scheyder and Jane Merriman)

Photo: Mining equipment and an escalator at a South African diamond mine. Photo credit: Bigstock

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