SON LA (VNS
)— Illegal gold mining in Pi Toong Commune is causing pollution in the northern province of Son La's Muong La District, and using up water resources necessary for local agriculture.
The lack of water for rice fields was threatening the livelihoods of many families in villages close to the mining area.
Witnesses said that more than 10 teams of gold miners were working illegally along Toong Stream, which runs through Lua, Hua Na and Na Phia villages in Pi Toong Commune.
Each mining team included about four or five people who used rudimentary tools, such as soil picks, shovels and sieves to search for gold, while some have moved in excavators and pumps.
One resident said the miners were residents who had taken to gold mining because they were unemployed, setting up tent accommodation around their activities.
In fact, illegal gold mining has put people in 90 households in Lua Village out of work because water supplies necessary for agricultural production have became exhausted.
The village's rice field used to be the biggest in the commune and in Muong La District, but this year its land was barren and dry.
The main water source for the field, the Toong Stream, is running low and muddy.
Head of the village Lo Van An said the stream was exhausted due to water running into holes being dug by miners, several metres deep.
They then pump out the water which had been mixed with mud, thus making the water in Toong Stream polluted and unusable, he said.
"Local residents' lives mostly depends on the rice field, and they cannot produce without water. Except for those living along the Toong Stream, who have an income from gold mining, the remainder did not have a job," An said.
Meanwhile, Pi Toong People's Committee chairman Quang Van Tam said local authorities had confiscated residents' machines and tools used for gold mining, but they replaced them.
Tam said the commune also could impose a fine of VND2 million ($95) which wasn't strict enough, he said.
Muong La District's Division of Natural Resources and Environment head Phan Tien Dien said the district had set up an inspection team to deal with illegal gold mining in the commune, but it had not been effective as residents warned each other to stop work when the inspectors came. — VNS