Assessment of Environmental Impact Awareness of Mining in Selected Communities in Sierra Leone

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Assessment of environmental impact awareness of mining in selected communities

in Sierra Leone



Mining operations tend to raise diverse environmental issues in mining communities for rural people. The adverse impact on the environment is one of the most significant impacts of mining operations. Nonetheless, while there is significant research about environmental impacts of mining, there is a lack of understanding in the area of community’s perceptions within the extractive industry, particularly in a developing country like Sierra Leone. The study assess the environmental impacts awareness of mining activities in three selected mining communities located in three districts in Sierra Leone.  A random sample of 150 respondents was contacted for relevant information through questionnaire administration and interviews.

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Pair-wise ranking was first performed to help identify the environmental impacts of mining activities as experienced by the rural people in the study areas. Frequencies, percentages and means are used in the discussion. The results from the study indicate that community members are of the opinion that mining activities deplete environmental resources such as land, vegetation, air, water, among others. Based on the above, with careful planning and management of mining operations, the negative impact of mining on the environment, and other aspects of society can be minimized. A balance must be struck between mining exploitation on the one side and environmental conservation on the other. In addition, effective monitoring by the responsible authorities and community participation in environmental decision-making will ensure sustainable mining operations.

  1. Introduction

The mining industry remains the backbone of many economies in the developing world. Mining activities have important economic, environmental, labour and social repercussions on local and global scales (Escanciano et al., 2010). It provides revenue for governments through earnings from foreign exchange, foreign direct investments, gross domestic product, employment and income to the workforce.  It is estimated that 80–100 million people worldwide are currently engaged in this industry and directly or indirectly depend on it for their livelihood (Veiga and Baker, 2004). 

Most of the regions and countries with significant mining activities, experience enormous environmental effects (Granville, 2001). Most of these effects are evident in developing countries, especially in Africa where most of the countries happen to be the most endowed with mineral deposits, yet most of them happen to be among the world’s poor.

While the sector provides vital raw materials and energy for a large number of industries, its activities are still commonly considered as a threat to the environment (Measham et al., 2013). 

The impacts associated with mining start with exploration, and extend through extraction and processing of the minerals to the end of operations (Oviir and Utouh, 2010), while the   environmental impact of mining operations stretch far beyond the initially exploited mineralized region (Woldai, 2001). It is however, unlikely for countries and regions with effective institutions to be impacted by the curse of natural resources (Mehlum et al., 2006; Bulte and Damania, 2008).

Mining activities have potential adverse impacts, including indiscriminate vegetation loss and degradation of farmland (Boadi et al., 2016), river sedimentation, inadequate waste management, abandonment of excavated pits, and lack of reclamation (Bansah et al., 2018). The generation of waste material from mining activities can potentially be hazardous to the environment. Mining companies therefore needed to prioritize their management to prevent groundwater, rivers and lakes from being contaminated (Kossoffet al., 2014). These environmental issues are believed to exacerbate the socioeconomic conditions of the people living in these mining-affected communities as they are among the poorest and most economically depressed in the world and Sierra Leone is not an exception.

Sierra Leone is a mineral-rich country endowed with rich natural resources (Bermúdez-Lugo, 2015). The industry is dominated by large scale producers of iron ore, diamonds, rutile and bauxite as well as small-scale and artisanal mining of gold, titanium and diamonds. However, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world.  Mining and quarrying provide a livelihood for more than 82,000 people, and directly or indirectly employed about 3 percent of the total labor force in Sierra Leone (Statistics Sierra Leone, 2015). Mineral exports mainly iron ore, diamonds, bauxite, rutile and gold contributed 2.7% to the national GDP and accounted for 91.1% of exports in 2016 (National Minerals Agency Report, 2018). Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) report (February 2016).

Thus, the mining activities have the capacity to enhance the country’s economy by stimulating direct foreign investment which is a key element to the development of infrastructure (roads, clinics, hospitals, houses and schools) especially in these mining communities.

Despite the fact that natural resources are a primal building block of livelihoods for the local residents and the entire nation, the benefits of mining industry in this part of the world have not been so significant due to a number of challenges. The mining operations in these communities have fundamentally been a source of pollution, disputes, poverty, loss of land, violent conflicts, and property destruction. In addition, some NGOs have identified social and economic vulnerabilities in iron ore, rutile, and diamond mining communities in Sierra Leone (Human Rights Watch, 2014; NACE, 2009; NMJD, 2010). Notwithstanding, the pervasive exploitation of mineral resources as one of the country’s major sources of income and employment, limited research has been conducted to assess the perception of community members on the impacts of the industry. Consequently, the aim of the study is to assess the environment impacts of mining in selected mining communities in Sierra Leone.

  1. Materials and Methods/Methodology

2.1 Study areas

The study area encompasses communities associated with the Sierra Rutile Limited, in Bonthe district; Octea Mining Company in Koidu – Kono district; and Sierra Leone Mining Company in Lunsar, Port Loko district (Figure 1).


Sierra Rutile Limited (SRL)

Sierra Rutile Limited mining company is located in Bonthe district. The district lies within the coastal plain relief system and consists of a low-lying swampy area extending 10–40 km inland (Alie, 2001). Imperi Chiefdom is 624 km2 and lies within the equatorial rain forest zone which is characterized by tall trees with thick undergrowth. The climate is tropical monsoon and has wet and dry seasons. Settlements are mainly located in flat areas with fertile soils and adequate water sources, such as rivers streams, and inland valleys often containing titanium mineral bearing sediments/sands with constituent minerals of rutile, ilmenite, and zircon. Sierra Rutile Limited (SRL) has been continually extracting these minerals in Southwestern Sierra Leone since 1967. The area also has some of Sierra Leone’s best agricultural land wherein various crops thrive. The main economic activities include swamp rice cultivation, upland cultivation of food and cash crops, fishing and rutile mining. The estimated population of the chiefdom is 33,394 (Statistics Sierra Leone, 2017).


The Octea Mining Company

The Octea mines is situated in Koidu in the Tankoro Chiefdom of Kono District in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone, approximately 360 km east of Freetown. The chiefdom is located in an interior region of large plateaus interspersed with high mountains with an area of 174 km2. The area is covered by both primary and secondary forests, which in recent decades have undergone significant deforestation, largely driven by economic and social activities. The climate is tropical monsoon and has wet and dry seasons with an average temperature of 270 C for most part of the year. The major economic activities are diamond and gold mining, rice, coffee and cacao cultivation, and logging. The estimated population of the town is 133,662 (Statistics Sierra Leone, 2017). The chiefdom and the district accounts for 60% of diamonds (industrial and artisanal) produced in Sierra Leone.

The SL Mining Company

The SL Mining company is found in Lunsar, Marampa Chiefdom, Port Loko District in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone. The area is largely covered by savannah, boliland swamps and few patches of secondary forest with an area of 399 km2.  It is the largest town in Port Loko District by population. The town is one of the main commercial and business hub in the North of Sierra Leone, and lies approximately 50 miles east of Freetown. The climate is tropical monsoon and has wet and dry seasons with an average temperature of 270 C for most part of the year. The main economic activities are trade, rice cultivation and mining. The estimated population of the chiefdom is 59,323 (Statistics Sierra Leone, 2017).

Figure 1: Map showing study areas (highlighted in yellow) – Sierra Rutile Limited (Gbangbama), Octea Mining Company (Koidu – Yengema) and SL Mining (Marampa – (Lunsar).

2.2. Data Collection and Analysis

 The study used both primary and secondary sources of data. The primary data collection was done using an interview schedule during the period February to May 2019. It comprised of the environmental impacts of mining and the demographic profile of the respondents in these areas.  This was done through questionnaires, field observations and key informant discussions with relevant individuals, groups and institutions. The schedule was administered to a random sample of one hundred and fifty (150) respondents of age 18 years and above living in these mining communities. Pair-wise ranking was first performed to help identify the environmental problems caused by mining activities in these communities. Frequency tables and means were used for the discussion; with mean separation done where necessary, at α = 0.05 (SAS version 9.4). 


  1. Results and Discussion

    1. Demography characteristics of respondents

Table 1 depicts the demographic characteristics of the respondents interviewed during the survey. The majority (60.6%,) of the respondents were males and 48.7% were within the age range of 31–43 years, and tertiary education (40.0%), and with (41.3% married). There were no significant (P > 0.05) different differences found within the demographic variable (Table 1).

Table 1: Demographic characteristics of respondents.



Total                n = 150 (%) 

P – value




Gender                           Male                      Female

                               30 (60)                   20 (40)

                       32 (64)                      18 (36)

                             29 (58)                  21 (42)

                               91 (60.6)                         59 (39.3)


Age category                      18-30                          31-43                              44-56                            >56

                                   15 (30)                   22 (44)           10 (20)                  3 (6)

                      14 (28)                  25 (50)                                                            7 (14)         4 (8)

                       12 (24)                      26 (52)                9 (18)                      3 (6)

                               41 (27.3)                              73 (48.7)                           26 (17.3)                          10 (6.7)


Educational Level            No Formal Education.  Basic                  Secondary            Tertiary

                            5 (10)                         5 (10 )              19 (38)                           21 (42)

                          4 (8)                        8 (16)                  22 (44)                           16 (32)

                          3 (6)                        7 (14)                                                17 (34)                    23 (46)

                             12 (8)                           20 (13.3)                         58 (38.7)                         60 (40)


Marital status               Single                 Married           Divorced

                    19 (38)                        22 (44)                 9 (18)

                     21 (42)                       18 (36)                11 (22)

                     16 (32)                          22 (44)                  12 (24)

                                 56 (37.3)                           62 (41.3)                         32 (21.3)


*Means in the same column followed by the same letter are not significantly different (DMRT, P = 0.05)




4.1.Overall perceptions of environmental problems ranking  

Analysis using a pair-wise ranking of problems, which elicited local peoples’ perceptions on the problems experienced in mining communities, indicates that the most pressing problems in mining regions are land degradation, loss of vegetation/deforestation, water shortage due to pollution and release of dust into the air (Table 2).

  Table 2: Problem ranking in mining communities

Main problems






  1. Land degradation



  1. Loss of vegetation/deforestation




  1. Dust release into air





  1. Limited water quantity/availability













4.3. Impact on community land

Mineral extraction involves the excavation of underground pits and the destruction of rocks using explosives, which has caused land degradation. The study illustrates that critical assets affected by mining activities in the study areas pose threat to human development and natural environment. Over 60 percent of the respondents in mining communities around the Octea Mining Company concessions in Koidu agreed that, there were high rate of land degradation as compared to in interviewees within Sierra Rutile Limited mining concession (56%) and the SL Mining areas in Lunsar (46%) (Table 3). Several others expressed their views, especially in an in-depth interview with a 52-year-old male farmer who lamented thus:

I am a farmer, I use to farm on a large pieces of land which served as a source of income for me and my family, but over the years, much of the land have been taken by the company for mining activities, and this has affected us greatly”.

As a result, the land losses its fertility, abandonment of excavated pits, and a lack of reclamation, which serves as breeding spots for mosquitoes and a change of the entire landscape. This is in consonant with reports of other studies. Considerable areas of land and vegetation in many mining communities in Ghana have been cleared to accommodate surface mining activities (Al-Hassan and Amoako, 2014; Mensah et al., 2015), with eroded gullies, abandoned mining tunnels and sites which are sites for injuries and hideout for criminals (Mwakumanya et al., 2016); abandoned stopes or pits, serving as potential breeding zones for mosquitoes (Aryee et al., 2003; Bansah et al., 2016). Mine development results in soil disturbance and this results in soil erosion; with sediments, soil and contaminants transported into rivers and streams resulting in the loss of or changes to the land relief Omotehinse and Ako (2019).

These environmental issues are believed to exacerbate the socioeconomic conditions of the people living in these mining-affected communities. Respondents did admit that, for those not mining employees and therefore depend on agriculture, there has been a reduction in arable lands. Bansah et al. (2018) also reported increased land degradation caused by artisanal and small-scale mining in southwestern Ghana; which resulted in reduced arable lands.

4.4. Impacts on forest ecosystem

Vegetation in form of natural forest or crop plantation is usually the first ‘‘casualty’’ to suffer total or partial destruction or degradation during the exploration and exploitation of minerals in a locality. Concerning impacts on the forest ecosystem, the study found out that greater proportion of the land area have been rendered bare due to mining activities. From interviewees’ responses in this study, admitted that, large tracts of land in many areas in Koidu (60%), have lost their vegetation cover as compared to Moyamba – Bonthe district (46%) and Lunsar, Port Loko district (46%), as a result of mineral mining, by Octea Mining Company, Koidu, Sierra Rutile Limited and SL Mining Company in Lunsar, respectively (Table 3), including indiscriminate vegetation removal and the destruction of farmlands. Mine construction and mine development activities include deforestation which is a major ecological threat. In most cases, the ecology is completely destroyed and there is widespread soil disturbance. Mine construction also results in soil erosion which promotes a variety of environmental changes associated with disturbed areas, which can lead to altered plant community species and a loss of habitat for indigenous fauna and flora (Omotehinse and Oko, 2019; Arthur et al., 2016; Mwakumanya et al., 2016).


4.5.Impacts on water quantity and availability

Mining activities have impacted the quantity and availability of water in the study areas adversely. Respondents in villages across the study areas Koidu Holdings Limited in Koidu Town, Kono district (66%), Sierra Rutile Limited in Moyamba – Bonthe districts (40%) and Marampa Mines in Lunsar (34%) agreed that mining exploitations have reduced the communities’ access to safe water, hence, causing water shortage problems (Table 3); due to the destruction of most water bodies that served as sources of water for domestic and agricultural activities. One of the respondents reported,

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the biggest problem is water; there’s not enough boreholes, of the 6 boreholes around; 3 of them had gone dry and only 3 are functional, and the water in 2 of them is impure. We walk long distances to fetch water, we have reported to the council and the company but nothing has been done in terms of maintenance (A female respondent age (48))”

It is not surprising that previous studies indicated that mining activities generate vast amounts of waste in the form of overburden, waste rock, and tailings, which may be stored at the surface or deposited in nearby water bodies. Mine tailings have the potential to pollute local watercourses through physical erosion, acidification, thiosalt contamination, and the release of heavy metals or traces of processing chemicals (Omotehinsea et al., 2019; Nguyen et al., 2018; Sondergaard et al., 2014; Nodem, 2016; Obiri et al., 2016; Arhur et al., 2016; Kitula, 2006) and renders them unsafe for domestic activities (Kamga et al., 2018; Mwakumanya et al., 2016; Besseh, 2011; Opoku-Ware, 2010; Oblokuteye, 2010; Phiri, 2011).


Table 3: Perceived impacts of environmental problems associated with mining activities

Environmental issues

Mining community/settlement

Sierra Rutile Limited –  (Gbangbama)


Octea Mining Company (Koidu)


SL Mining Company – (Lunsar)






Reduced water quantity/availability










Community land degradation










Dust release into the air










Loss of vegetation/











P- value                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  0.8444

*Means in the same column followed by the same letter are not significantly different (DMRT, P = 0.05)

4.6. Impact on air/Increased dust release into the environment

Community wise, 40 percent of the respondents in communities around Sierra Rutile Limited and 44 percent around Koidu Holdings and 20 percent around Marampa mines in Lunsar agreed that, there were high increase in dust release in their respective communities (Table 3). In mining operations, dust and emissions are diluted by the wind, reducing air quality and causing sicknesses. Al-Hassan and Amoako (2014) discuss ambient air quality deterioration by fine particulates released from the sieving of crushed rock obtained by small scale mining. Dust emission is mostly experienced during blasting activities and the construction of roads; and can pollute the air leading to sicknesses such as catarrh and silicosis (Omotehinse and Ako, 2019). 

Overall, although there were percent differences in opinion with regards the impact of mining amongst the respondents, no significant differences were observed amongst the four mining impact (P = 0.8444) across the 3 mining sites.

4.7. Perception on mitigative measures to Environmental problems in the mining area:

Based on the environmental conditions in the study communities, our study sought to find out intervention measures by the mining companies. This was to enable us to effectively examine the preparedness of the mining company to address the environmental problems associated with the mining activities as part of their mandatory corporate social responsibility.  In this regard, significantly (P = 0.0161), 69.3% of the respondents reported that the mining companies have not done much in minimize their environmental impacts, where as 30.7% of respondents reported that the mining companies were trying to minimize their environmental impacts (Table 4).

However, as part of control measures to limit the extent of water shortage/availability, the companies have constructed some boreholes especially in Rutile and Koidu communities, which serves as a source of potable water sources. Other measures put in place by the mining companies include regular springy of water on major roads within the communities to minimize air pollution from increased dust released, and resettlement of the affected people.  

Table 4: Companies contribution to mitigate environmental impacts.


Mining communities


P- value

Sierra Rutile Limited –  (Gbangbama)

Octea Mining Company (Koidu)

SL Mining Company – (Lunsar)


16 (32.0%)

14 (28.0%)

16 (32.0%)




34 (68.0%)

36 (72.0%)

34 (69.3%)


*Means in the same column followed by the same letter are not significantly different (DMRT, P = 0.05)

Source: Field Survey, 2019

  1. Conclusions

The current study assessed the environmental impact awareness of mining in selected mining communities in Sierra Leone. The community members are with the perception that mining operations have caused severe environmental impacts on their communities, including reduction in the availability of water for domestic and agricultural purposes; air quality as a result of dust release into the air; vegetation loss and land degradation in the form of the loss of farmland.  However, there seems to be very little consideration and concern about the welfare of these community people since there has been no indications of monitoring or regulating the mining operations. These destructions and degradation of the environment are a direct consequence of negation by mining firms of rehabilitation and land reclamation measures.

  1. Recommendations

Based on the findings of the study and environmental challenges associated with mining activities, the following recommendations are made to address the environmental impacts of mining:

      The government should develop measures aimed at restoring degraded lands to its original state after mining activities by the mining companies. These will not only decrease the adverse impacts on the individuals, but also make land available to farmers for agricultural purposes.

      The government should ensure effective community involvement in environmental decision-making as it is essential for the current practice of natural resource management and is the cornerstone of accountable and democratic environmental governance and a basic precondition for sustainable development.

      The environmental impacts of mining can be mitigated through the following: at local level, awareness raising of the negative impacts of mining across the active mining areas and law enforcement agents must ensure proper implementation of the laws and regulations that regulate mining activities at government level.


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