London: At least 1,000 tonnes of mercury is released into the atmosphere and millions of men, women and children worldwide are exposed to its toxic emissions due to gold production every year. A new $180-million five-year programme to reform the artisanal and small-scale mining sector, which accounts for 20 per cent of the world’s annual gold production, was launched in London on Monday.

The Global Environment Facility-backed Global Opportunities for the Long-term Development of the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Sector (GEF GOLD) programme aims to reduce use of mercury in artisanal gold mining and introduce and facilitate access to mercury-free extraction methods.

Spanning eight countries, the programme is a partnership among Global Environment Facility, the UN Development Programme, UN Environment Programme, the UN Industrial Development Organisation, Conservation International and Burkina Faso, Colombia, Guyana, Indonesia, Kenya, Mongolia, the Philippines and Peru.