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The Kellé district, a section of the Kellé-Mbomo Forest Management Unit (FMU) located in the Cuvette-Ouest region 700 km from Brazzaville, in northern Congo, is undergoing intense semi-industrial exploitation of alluvial gold, causing deforestation and the disappearance of 150 streams. The environmental destruction was attributed in 2019 to the Chinese company Agil Congo, which had then made a commitment to rehabilitate the destroyed sites. But three years later, local residents and NGOs claim that the developer has never respected its commitments.
Early afternoon in Otchouandzoko. Young people stroll through the village, others laze in the shade of a large safoutier tree over a glass of wine or play cards. This village of 400 inhabitants, located 35 km from Kellé, is one of a dozen villages on the Andzoko-Akamou-Ndzoukou axis that have been severely impacted by alluvial gold mining. Sitting in his small straw hut, the head of the village Victor Essangapela believes that gold, which used to make the inhabitants happy, has become the source of their misfortunes. And for good reason: the village has lost twenty-seven of the twenty-eight streams that used to water it. "They have transformed them into stagnant and polluted pools that generate mosquitoes never known here, and cause skin and diarrheal diseases," says Essangapela.
17 km from the village, Farrel, a young artisanal gold digger, contemplates a clearing as far as the eye can see. Pools of polluted water, covered with grass in places, bumps of sand and gravel; this is what remains of the stream called "ampélé. The same change in habitat can be seen in the Ongama, Ndoungnou and Mwana 7 creeks, which are gradually being created by the destruction of their ecosystems, 500 meters apart. "This was one of the sites of Agil. We used to mine gold artisanally in these streams, while preserving the environment. Agil has taken over our waters without any compensation", explains Farrel with sadness, "the shores were lined with trees that gave us good fruit, Agil has cut everything down, the streams have disappeared, even the gnetum africanum no longer exists and until the end of our days, we will no longer have these trees that grow only on the banks of the streams" regrets the gold digger.