At least 15 people died Saturday after a landslide at a clandestine artisanal gold mine in Guinea’s northeast Siguiri region, rescuers and witnesses said.
A rock overhang collapsed near the village of Tatakourou according to first telephoned reports from the area which did not clearly establish whether the victims had been crushed by falling rock above the mine or buried inside the facility.
A Red Cross official on site said on condition of anonymity at least 15 people had been killed but did not rule out that others had been buried at the mine entrance.
Sinaman Traore, a gold panner at the mine, said he had seen volunteers rescue two colleagues.
“This situation in the Siguiri mines concerns all of us — at the end of the day these landslides are more deadly than the Covid-19 pandemic,” said police capitain Mamadou Niare after arriving at the scene.
The country’s Covid-19 death toll to Saturday stood at 149 but recent years have seen a spate of accidents at artisanal mines, particularly around Siguiri near the border with Mali, a region where more than 20,000 panners are officially active.
At least 17 clandestine miners were killed in a landslide in February 2019 and another dozen nine months later.
Despite the country boasting rich deposits of minerals such as bauxite, diamonds and gold the bulk of the population faces a daily struggle to survive with the UN estimating around one two live below the poverty line.
The search for gold riches attracts clandestine miners from Mali, Senegal and several other West African neighbours.
The Government of Guinea and the Lives and Livelihoods Fund have provided 56 sanitation trucks to the National Agency for Public Hygiene and Sanitation (ANASP) under the Ministry of Hydraulics and Sanitation to address challenges linked to urgent solid waste disposal in the poorest parts of the city.
The handing over of the trucks is aimed at confronting the challenges posed by Conakry’s rapid urban growth, the environmental impact of which is the worsening of living conditions of the population.
Indeed, Guinea has experienced rapid urban population growth, with the number of people living in urban areas rising from 16.6% in 1971 to 36.9% in 2020. Within 10 years, it is estimated that more than half of the Guinea population will live urbanised.
However, a reported 80% of rural households, and some 54% of those in the urban areas, dispose of their waste in the open, and it is estimated that less than 6,7 % of households in Guinea practice safe waste disposal. The impact of the situation contributes to both environmental problems, such as flooding, and health risks, such as contamination of open water sources.
As a result, the government, through the “National Plan for Economic and Social Development”, has identified access to quality social services such as hygiene, sanitation and drinking water as a top priority.
“Populations living in a healthy environment and who are themselves healthy are citizens capable of investing themselves fully and with all their might in the process of resilience to shocks and socio-economic development underway in Guinea as part of the emergence hoped for in 2040,” said His Excellency Professor Alpha Condé, Head of State, President of the Republic in a statement.
The purchase of the fleet of sanitation trucks was made with US$54 million allocated to the Conakry Sanitation Project funded by the Lives and Livelihoods Fund, a multilateral development initiative created by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and development cooperation partners.
According to UN-Habitat, lack of sanitation has led to more than 1,200 daily deaths of children under five worldwide, more than the number of deaths caused by AIDS, measles and tuberculosis combined.
It is for this reason that Professor Alpha CONDE, Head of State, President of the Republic constantly urges the Guinean population to adopt appropriate hygiene practices and attitudes so that everyone protects themselves and their relatives as well as the environment, in accordance with the strategy of professionalization of the management of solid waste in Conakry.
Guinea launched an Ebola vaccination campaign on Tuesday after a fresh outbreak of the deadly disease struck the country this month, with officials hoping to eradicate the virus in six weeks.
The country reported new Ebola cases on February 13 — the first in West Africa since a 2013-2016 epidemic that left more than 11,300 dead in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The latest outbreak emerged near the town of Gouecke, in the forested Nzerekore region in Guinea’s southeast, and has already killed five people.
No new cases have however been confirmed for a week.
Ebola causes severe fever and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding.
It is transmitted through close contact with bodily fluids, and people who live with or care for patients are most at risk.
Health workers began to administer Ebola vaccines in Gouecke on Tuesday, after over 11,000 doses arrived in Guinea the previous day.
Guinea’s Health Minister Remy Lamah, as well as Georges Ki-Zerbo, the World Health Organization representative in the country, travelled to the town for the start of the rollout.
The WHO plans to send about another 8,000 doses to Guinea, the UN health agency said in a statement on Tuesday.
Health Minister Lamah told AFP: “I think that in six weeks, we can be done with this disease.”
During a ceremony outside a health centre in Gouecke, local government officials received jabs before a crowd of several dozen people. An imam and preacher also encouraged people to get immunised.
Lamah, who hails from the region, said he had spent the day trying to persuade local leaders to overcome their resistance to the vaccine.
– Contact tracing – Ki-Zerbo said the jabs would be administered mainly to those who had been in contact with people known to be infected, followed potentially by a second circle of people to break the chain of transmission.
The vaccination campaign also began in Dubreka on the outskirts of the capital Conakry, said Dr Halimatou Keita, who works in a hospital there.
On Wednesday, the rollout will continue in Nzerekore, located around 40 kilometres from Gouecke.
A total of 385 people have been identified as contacts linked to the initial case and that person’s relatives, said Bouna Yattassaye, deputy director of the National Agency for Health Security.
The vast majority of them are being monitored and will be among the first to be vaccinated.
Meanwhile in central Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo has also seen a new Ebola outbreak.
Officials said Sunday that four people had died while warning that people were resisting measures to contain the highly contagious disease.
A fact file on the Ebola virus that has plunged Guinea into an “epidemic situation” according to a senior health official, and which has killed more than 15,000 people since 1976.
Ebola was first identified in central Africa in 1976. The tropical virus was named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo — then known as Zaire.
Five of the virus species are known to cause disease in humans — Zaire, Sudan, Bundibugyo, Reston and Tai Forest.
The first three species have resulted in serious African outbreaks.
The virus’ natural reservoir animal is probably the bat, which does not itself fall ill, but can pass the germ on to humans who hunt it for “bushmeat”.
Other dinnertime favourites in parts of Africa — chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines — are also suspected of transmitting Ebola.
Among humans, the virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person. This can include touching a sick or dead person, and likely also sexual intercourse.
Those infected do not become contagious until symptoms appear. They become more and more contagious until just after their death, which poses great risks during funerals.
Death rates are high, at around 50 per cent on average of those infected, and up to 90 per cent for some epidemics, the World Health Organization (WHO) data shows.
Following an incubation period of between two and 21 days, Ebola develops into a high fever, weakness, intense muscle and joint pain, headaches and a sore throat.
The initial symptoms are often followed by vomiting and diarrhoea, skin eruptions, kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding.
After-effects have often been observed in survivors, including arthritis, problems with vision, eye inflammation and hearing difficulties.
A vaccine developed by the US group Merck Shape and Dohme was found to be very effective in a major study carried out in Guinea in 2015.
It was pre-qualified by the WHO and more than 300,000 doses have been used during a vaccination programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).
A second experimental vaccine developed by the US group Johnson & Johnson was introduced preventively in October 2019 in areas that had not been affected by the virus and more than 20,000 people were inoculated.
Worst epidemic (2013-2016)
The worst-ever Ebola outbreak began in December 2013 in southern Guinea before spreading to two neighbouring West African countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
That outbreak killed more than 11,300 people out of nearly 29,000 registered cases, according to WHO estimates.
10th and 11th DR Congo epidemics
The 10th epidemic began on August 1, 2018 in the North Kivu province of DR Congo, and was declared a global health threat in July 2019 by the WHO.
It was declared over in June 2020 by DR Congo authorities after around 2,280 people had died, making it Africa’s second-worst Ebola outbreak ever.
An 11th Ebola epidemic began that month in the Equator province and was declared over on November 18, with 55 deaths.
“Resurgence” in DR Congo and “epidemic situation in Guinea
On February 7, the DR Congo said a resurgence of the virus had been identified in an eastern part of the country.
A week later, a senior health official in Guinea said that country was in an “epidemic situation” after seven cases were confirmed in the southeast, three of which had resulted in deaths.
They were the first Ebola fatalities in Guinea since 2016.
A local WHO official said the organisation would send vaccines quickly to help keep the virus from spreading.
The 82-year-old president of Guinea, Alpha Conde, has received his first dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus, part of a scheme mainly involving government members, a source close to his office said Saturday.
Defence minister Mohamed Diane, a scientist by training, was the first in the country to get a jab of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine on December 30.
The source said Conde received the Sputnik V vaccine on Friday.
Several other government members who have not so far contracted the virus have also been inoculated over the past two weeks, a spokesman for the national health security agency told AFP.
Guinea has received 60 doses of Sputnik V and authorities intend to inoculate a small number of elderly volunteers first before deciding whether to extend the programme.
“More than 2.5 million vaccine doses are expected before the end of the first quarter, which would enable us to inoculate a good number of people, certainly those who want it,” said health agency spokesman, Sory Keira, without specifying whether the doses consisted solely of the Russian-developed jab.
The impoverished African country has so far registered more than 14,000 infections and 81 deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, including a number of politicians.
The outbreak coincided with months of political crisis caused by Conde’s decision to run for his third consecutive term as president.
Conde won the October election against a backdrop of violence, with dozens killed during clashes between protesters and security forces.
Critics accuse him of cracking down on dissent and breaking the country’s constitutional two-term presidential limit.
The coronavirus pandemic comes on the heels of the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola epidemic, which killed around 2,500 people in the nation of some 13 million people.
Alpha Conde won Guinea’s disputed presidential poll, the national electoral authority said Saturday, setting the stage for a controversial third term.
Announcing provisional results, electoral authority president Kabinet Cisse said that Conde, 82, had won 59.49 percent of the votes in the October 18 election.
His main opponent Cellou Dalein Diallo, — at the forefront of protests against a third term for Conde — was credited with 33.5 percent of the vote.
“Long live democracy, long live peace, may God bless Guinea,” Cisse said during a ceremony in Conakry, as Conde supporters leapt to their feet and cheered the president’s victory.
The announcement follows days of post-election violence in which around 10 people were killed in clashes across the nation of some 13 million people.
Doubting the independence of the electoral authority, Diallo, 68, had on Monday declared himself victorious before the results were announced — which triggered confrontations between his supporters and security forces.
Protesters hit the streets of Conakry again Saturday, and residents of some suburbs said police officers were firing tear-gas cannisters to clear them off.
“We’re on the street until Cellou Dalein asks us to come home,” said one, who declined to be named, referring to the opposition leader.
Diallo, whom police are blockading inside his Conakry home, told AFP he would mount a legal challenge to the announced election results.
“We are going to protest this electoral hold-up in the street,” he said.
“But we are still going to refer the matter to the constitutional court, without having too many expectations”.
Diallo’s UFDG party condemned a “massive fraud” in a statement and urged supporters to defend his self-proclaimed win.
– Third term – While Guinea’s independent national electoral commission (CENI) declared the provisional tally, the constitutional court must still approve the result. It is expected to do so in about a week.
With his win, Conde is set to govern for another six years, and could potentially run for another fourth term after that.
Stiff opposition to a third term triggered mass protests from October 2019, in which security forces killed dozens of people.
In March, the president pushed through a new constitution which he argued would modernise the country.
The move also allowed him to bypass a two-term limit for presidents.
Guinea is a poor country, despite rich deposits of bauxite, gold and diamonds, that has known little political stability since independence in 1958.
Conde, a former opposition activist who spent decades in exile, became the country’s first democratically-elected president in 2010, and was re-elected in 2015.
But hopes of a new political dawn have soured, with rights groups accusing him of veering towards authoritarianism.
Diallo was formerly a prime minister under authoritarian leader Lansana Conte. He ran against Conde in both 2010 and 2015.
– ‘Violence must stop’ – Diallo’s self-proclaimed victory plunged Guinea into a fresh round of violence.
The opposition says 27 people were killed, and AFP was unable to independently confirm the official death toll of 10.
Five people died Friday on the outskirts of Conakry when a train carrying fuel was attacked after the rail tracks were sabotaged.
In another confused incident, at least three gendarmes, a soldier and civilian were killed in a Conakry suburb the same day, according to government official who declined to be named.
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has warned that the rival parties could be prosecuted after fighting erupted.
“We are… continuing to closely monitor developments on the ground. The violence must stop,” Fatou Bensouda said in a tweet.
“I wish to repeat this important reminder: anyone who commits, orders, incites, encourages and contributes in any other way to crimes… is liable to prosecution either by the Guinean courts or the ICC,” she said.
The campaign was fraught with tension ahead of the vote. Conde was accused of stoking ethnic divisions for electoral ends, a charge he denies.
Guinea’s politics are mainly drawn along ethnic lines: the president’s base is among the ethnic Malinke community while Diallo has strong backing among the Fulani people.