illegal mica minesIf you’ve ever used glittery lipstick or eyeshadow, there’s a good chance the products used contained mica, a brittle, shiny mineral which creates a glittering effect in everything from makeup to paint to toothpaste. According to the Responsible Mica Initiative, there’s a one in four chance that the glitter in that makeup came from an illegal mine that supported child labor.

Where does Mica come from?

Approximately 90 percent of the world’s mica comes from India, particularly from region of Jharkhand where the world’s largest mica deposits can be found. Despite its mineral wealth, the region is plagued by poverty and hunger. Of the 33 million people who live in Jharkhand, 13 million are living below the poverty line. This makes Jharkhand one of the poorest regions in India.

Almost half of the children there are underweight while nearly half of its children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth. In addition, illiteracy is also common. In the rural areas of Jharkhand, the percentage of women who are literate is barely more than 45 percent. Because of this poverty, child labor has become common. Having no other options, many families allow their children to find work instead of going to school.

The mica mines in the region, many of which are run by cartels, are more than willing to take advantage of this. While employing miners under the age of eighteen is illegal, it is estimated that around 20,000 children and teenagers in Jharkhand are working for mica mines. However, it’s hard to say if this is the true number, given that all of these children are working for mines that do not officially exist.

The Dangers of Mica Mining

Some of these children are as young as five, and the nature of their work leaves them completely unprotected from the danger of the mines. These “ghost” mines, as the illegal mines are sometimes called, operate without any sort of safety regulations. The hollowed-out caves often collapse, frequently crushing miners or trapping them underground.

While the true number can’t be found, some estimates claim that at least two to five children die in the mica mines each month. Many of these deaths are never reported because of the risk they would pose to the mica industry. One mica miner recalled the story of a woman who had fallen into the mines and died, but her death certificate claimed that the cause of death was a fall from a two-story building.

Even without that risk, other dangers include the risk of being stung by scorpions that hide under the rocks and cutting themselves. In addition, many miners end up breathing in silica dust, which can lead to silicosis, a chronic respiratory condition that leads to breathing difficulties and eventual scarring in the lungs. Many workers also run a high risk of contracting asthma or black lung disease.

To add insult to injury, miners usually receive a pittance for their work, especially underage miners. One child reported that his usual daily pay was about 50 rupees or less than $1. Worst of all, reports on illegal mica mining show that ghost mines aren’t an anomaly in Jharkhand. Some claim that at least 70 percent of the region’s exported mica is illegally mined.

The Solution

How will the makeup industry and makeup buyers distance themselves from the cruelty and corruption that supplies so much mica? One answer is to stop using mica or to ensure that the mica they use is ethically sourced. As the world becomes aware of the plight of the Jharkhand miners, this is what many makeup companies are doing. In January 2018, the company Lush began using synthetic mica, which is produced in a lab.

Other companies are calling for a more ethical supply chain. The Responsible Mica Initiative, an alliance formed between cosmetics companies including l’Oreal, Chanel and Estee Lauder, has the goal of eradicating child labor in mica production within the next five years. Along with their efforts to ensure that their companies only use ethically sourced mica, the Initiative is working with the Indian government and local authorities to empower communities in the Jharkhand region in hopes of cutting off the region’s dependence on predatory mica mines.

Cracking Down on Illigal Mines

Meanwhile, the Indian government has been doing what they can to crack down on illegal mines. After an ongoing investigation, including the investigation of several unreported deaths in the Jharkhand region, the Indian government has begun pushing to legalize mica mining again. If more mines become legal, the logic goes, they would have to allow for accountability regarding how they treat their workers and they wouldn’t be able to employ children or teenagers.

Many experts agree, however, that the key to stopping predatory illegal mines is ensuring that the people of Jharkhand do not have to depend on those mines to survive. This is what the Responsible Mica Initiative is aiming to do by empowering villages in rural Jharkhand. Its empowerment programs involve efforts to have more children enrolled in school, to educate people on alternate sources of income, to improve healthcare in villages and to strengthen local institutions.

In a region afflicted with poverty and crippled by its dependence on mica, the issue goes far deeper than simply eradicating illegal mines. However, with the persistance of makeup companies and organizations like the Responsible Mica Initiative, the region may be able to climb out of poverty and break the cycle of child exploitation that has plagued it for so long.

– Keira Charles

Photo: Flickr


Consequences of Interconnected Poverty: Angola and The DRC
The latest story in a seemingly endless news cycle about violence and mining in central Africa focuses on the neighboring countries of Angola and The DRC (the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Both countries are mineral rich, but this story, along with many others, is rooted in the poverty that resulted from the exploitation of these resources by Western countries. 

The Violence Between Angola and the DRC

How did Angola come to host such vast numbers of DRC migrants and refugees that a humanitarian crisis was possible? In recent years, many Congolese diamond miners have crossed the border between Angola and the DRC to take advantage of Angola’s mining industry. In the DRC, the supply chain and mines are more government regulated, creating a lower profit margin for miners. Apparently, Angola’s president, João Lourenço, recently decided that, because the government was not financially benefitting from these migrations, the Congolese must leave.

This has catalyzed a series of violent expulsions by Angola’s military and police about which The United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNCHR) has expressed concern. Congolese have been murdered, raped, looted, burned out of their homes, separated from their children and stranded. The Kasai Province of the DRC, which is on the country’s northeastern border with Angola, has become overcrowded with more than 200,00 of expelled migrants. The UNCHR cautions that such an influx to an already unstable region could cause a humanitarian crisis.

A Brief History of Angola

Angola and the DRC have similar, intertwined stories of colonial rule, civil wars and poverty that have been integral in creating the current problem. The Portuguese established a settlement at Luanda Bay in 1576, which eventually became the colony of Angola. Wealth from natural resources desired in the West and the Portuguese involvement in the Atlantic slave trade fueled the colony at the expense of its native people.

A revolution in Portugal allowed Angolans to gain its independence in 1975. However, leaders of different nationalist movements within Angola clashed, leading to a civil war that, with some interludes, ravished the country from 1975 to 2002 with an estimated 1.5 million Angolan lives lost and another 4 million Angolans displaced.

While the end of the civil war allowed Angola to focus on harnessing its natural resources, the country’s history still manifests in extreme poverty. The improving economy has mostly benefitted the wealthy while 20 percent of the population remains unemployed and five million Angolans live in slum conditions.

The diamond mining industry that the economy depends on was originally created for European gain, meaning that safety standards for Angolans were never established. In Africa as a whole, an estimated one million miners earn less than one dollar a day, a wage below the extreme poverty line. Besides having few wage or labor regulations in Angola, an estimated 46 percent of miners are between the ages of five and 16. It is a sad irony that the industry the economy needs fuels poverty and oppression.

A Brief History of the DRC

Angola and the DRC have followed a similar developmental pattern, and therefore, experience poverty similarly. The DRC has also progressed from colonial rule to civil wars and violence, creating poverty that manifests in a growing gap between the rich and poor and an economy based on unjust mining conditions. This led to the violence and conflict between the two countries that are so prevalent in the current news cycle.

The area that now constitutes the DRC dates back to The Berlin West African Conference in 1884-45, where the Great Powers of Europe at the time officially divided the land, making their own colonial boundaries that ignored tribal and ethnic distinctions. After the division, Belgium’s King Leopold II officially began exploiting the DRC’s natural resources and its inhabitants with slave labor.

The DRC became independent in 1960. However, the instability of the new government and continued attempts of outside involvement from Belgium led to the Congo Crisis, essentially five years of violence and political instability. Another civil war, involving Angola and most of the surrounding area in what some term Africa’s World War, consumed the region from 1997-2003.

Because these wars were rooted in the colonial past, infrastructure and stability were lacking. An estimated six out of seven people in the DRC live on less than $1.25 a day. Approximately 2.9 million Congolese have been internally displaced by the violence. Since Belgium focused on the abundant natural resources, jobs like mining became the main vocation for Congolese. Additionally, Belgium neglected to oversee education in the DRC, leaving many unequipped for jobs outside the mines. The DRC once supplied a fourth of the world’s diamond supply, but that number has dropped significantly in recent years, in favor of other resources like cobalt, leaving the remaining diamond miners even less prosperous.

Interconnected Poverty Between Angola and the DRC

Angola and the DRC have become linked as these DRC miners seek opportunities across the border. The countries’ colonial pasts have made them dependent on natural resources as part of their attempts to combat poverty and recover from civil war. But, in this case, attempts to financially recover have led to more violence as both the Angolan government and the DRC’s miners strive to earn enough money from diamond sales.

There is a political undercurrent as well due to the DRC’s President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down since his maximum constitutional mandate ended in 2016. Interconnected government concerns due to the close proximity and a historical tendency for government conflict to become violent have been part of Angola and the DRC’s relationship for years.

In Africa’s World War, Angola supported a rebel coalition that removed DRC military dictator Mobutu Sese Seko from power in 1997, assisted the DRC in combating rebel movements from Rwanda and Uganda in 1998 and supported President Joseph Kabila at the start of his term. This war caused many refugees to seek asylum in Angola in the first place, and fear of another such conflict if Kabila does not step down, seems to be reverberating in the current violent expulsion.

However, based on the economic growth seen since the war’s end, the potential exists for two countries to improve their poverty rates. Angola has seen an average annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increase of 8.68 percent with the help of foreign investment and high oil prices. Although in the past two years there have been GDP decreases, the overall trend is positive. The DRC’s GDP has also averaged increases since 2002, although it has fluctuated more. These growth rates reveal hope for those living in poverty in Angola and the DRC if the governments can avoid further violence and instability and begin to combat gaps between the rich and poor.

– Charlotte Preston

Photo: Flickr

Drones improving South Africas mines
Toward the end of the 19th century, explorers found diamonds near South Africa’s Orange River.

This marked the beginning of the chain of events that helped turn South Africa into a mining juggernaut.

Despite the danger associated with the work in this industry, it remains crucial to the nation in terms of employment and gross domestic product.

Today, advanced technology, especially drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have the potential to transform South Africa’s mining economy.

The nation has high unemployment and poverty rate and it remains to be seen if drones in South Africa have the power to help or hurt poverty in the nation.

Mining and South Africa’s Economy

Mining industry accounts for the biggest industry in South Africa and mined goods are the country’s biggest exports.

This industry is a large part of South Africa’s economy as the country is rich in coal, diamonds, gold and platinum.

In regards to this, South Africa has attracted large foreign direct investments in the local mining industry.

Nearly 500,000 South Africans worked in the sector and this contributed to around $22 billion in country’s GDP in 2017.

Drones in South Africa’s Mining Industry

Commercial drone use is gaining popularity in South Africa so much that Engineering News has declared 2018 as the year of the drone.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority has regulated drone use since 2015 and currently allows 24 companies to incorporate UAVs in business operations.

There are somewhere from 30,000 to 50,000 drones in the country, but more the potential for the increase is present.

Almost 340 applicants are waiting for approval of drone-use. For one of the nation’s largest iron ore producers, Kumba Iron Ore, drones are a large part of the business and drilling is high-tech.

The company uses drones and machines to drill holes and drop explosives for excavation.

In previous times, miners would spend long days sitting on construction machines for the excavation process, but drones have sped up and simplified it.

Kumba also uses autonomous drills and is one of only two companies to adopt this technology worldwide.

Drones are also being used to monitor drilling sites, keeping humans away from dangerous working conditions.

The drones outfitted with cameras and scanners can provide data on operations and current conditions in the mine.

Another company that is using for drones in mining is Exxaro Resources Group in partnership with Rocketmine.

Rocketmine uses UAVs for terrain surveying, stockpile inspection, blast monitoring and mapping services and contracts out drones throughout Africa.

Exxaro’s Grootegeluk coal mine is taking advantage of drones for surveying and mapping in order to increase production through better efficiency.

Effects on Human Jobs

PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the market value of drone-powered solutions is over $127 billion.

Drones are revolutionizing mining and keeping more people away from dangerous working conditions.

Unfortunately, men and women in this sector are this could potentially be even worse in the future.

“The sad reality is,” writes Robert J. Traydon for news24 “there will be fewer and fewer jobs available in large mining operations as robots continue to take over.”

That sentiment is hardly universal. The drone industry has the potential to create thousands of jobs for qualified drone pilots.

More specifically, this sector could create more than 30,000 jobs yearly. A rather large caveat is that workers will need to be experienced or high-potential drone pilots. Unskilled laborers may receive no benefit from drone mining.

Mining Drones in South Africa and Poverty in the Country

Poverty is a huge issue for the people of South Africa as the nation faces both unemployment and persistent poverty levels.

Over 25 percent of the workforce is unemployed and almost half of South Africa’s people are chronically poor.

South African men and women need real solutions. Mining is a huge part of the economy and any changes in this industry will have dramatic effects on the South African workers.

If mining drones in South Africa can provide more jobs this could be a good thing for the nation.

Unfortunately, the drones could take human jobs and negatively impact poverty and unemployment. It is still unclear how changes in the mining sector will play out overall for South Africa’s economy and people in general.

There is no doubt that drones in South Africa can make working conditions safer and more efficient for miners in the country.

The only question is the real effect drones will have on South African unemployment and poverty.

Drones take away manpower at dangerous mining sites, but also create jobs for drone pilots and others through the supply chain.

It remains to be seen how this resource-rich nation fully incorporates drones and whether these tools ultimately increase or decrease poverty in the country.

Just like the case in many other sectors, the effect of mining drones in South Africa is neither black nor white when it comes to alleviating poverty.

– Sarah Stanley

Photo: Flickr

Facts About Child Miners
An estimated 1 million children worldwide work as miners. These are 10 facts about child miners in the world today.

Key Child Miners Facts

  1. Child miners can be found in parts of Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Most of these children, from economically downtrodden backgrounds, are either uneducated or school-dropouts, with the exception of a few who attend both work and school. They work in inhumane and dangerous conditions to extract minerals and ores in high demand in the global market.
  2. Mining is considered one of the worst forms of child labor as the hazardous working conditions in mines adversely affect the safety and health of children.
  3. One of the facts about child miners working in the artisanal mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is they contribute to the production of cobalt, coltan, copper and tin. These materials are used in the fabrication processes of modern electronics like laptops and cell phones. Of the 2 million miners in DRC’s artisanal mines, 40 percent are children and their earnings range from $0.75 to $3 a day. In 2017, Amnesty International warned the world of the use of child labor in cobalt mining and urged large companies to be wary of purchasing unethically mined cobalt.
  4. Poverty, lack of educational and economic opportunities, corruption, lenient law-enforcement and the soaring demands for mined materials in the global market are primary reasons for the prevalence of child labor in mines.
  5. Cobalt mining often involves injuries, death and health hazards. Stone mining causes dehydration, respiratory infections and accidents. Gold mining exposes children to toxic vapors and mercury-poisoning, and mining salt exposes child miners to dizziness, skin problems and iris discoloration.
  6. Stone quarries in Guatemala are often found along public shores, where poor families set up camps to mine volcanic river rocks. These are then sold to construction companies at low prices. According to reports by the International Labour Organization (ILO), it takes three days for a 13-year-old boy to produce one cubic meter of gravel that sells for $7.50. Children as young as five are found collecting and breaking rocks with hammers in these mines. Both adults and children work eight hours a day, six to seven days a week. The quarries in Nepal are reported to have child miners between ages 10 to 12. Girls and boys in Madagascar’s stone quarries also work long hours collecting and crushing blocks of stones.
  7. Of the 10 facts about child miners in the world, gold mining deserves a special mention as it exposes children to mercury-poisoning, which is extremely likely due to the nature of gold extraction. Child gold miners are often found in the Sahel region of Africa (mainly in Burkina Faso and Niger). High levels of poverty in the region forces families to send children under 18 to work in the mines. They constitute 30 to 50 percent of the entire gold-mining workforce. These children work with heavy and primitive equipment to break rocks and transport them to washing, crushing and mineral processing. Children often work underground in narrow shafts and galleries.
  8. The ILO estimates 10,000 children are involved in gold mining in Ghana and more than 65,000 children work in the mines of Bolivia, Peru and Equador. According to a study by the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), many instances of illegal mining occur in Côte d’Ivoire, where children are often trafficked from neighboring areas and held in slavery-like conditions. Mongolia and the Philippines are some of the other countries with child miners.
  9. IPEC has been working hard to ensure that children in areas like Niger and Senegal are protected from joining the salt mining business. A highly labor-intensive process, mining salt includes harvesting (digging pits, filling and lifting sacks) and distilling salt alongside transporting ore and fuel to aid the process. Children participate in all stages of salt mining.
  10. Child labor is also widely used in the mica mining industry in India and Madagascar; talc mining in Brazil; coal, salt and gemstone mining in Pakistan; gold mining in China; gem mining in Sri Lanka.

Most countries in the world have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes the right to protect children from economic exploitation. Human Rights Watch believes boycotting goods produced from these mines is not the solution, as it would adversely affect the economy of these nations. Instead, in accord with U.N. Guiding Principles, it proposes that international companies that buy these products initiate programs to ensure they do not benefit from child labor in any manner. Consumers from developed nations like the U.S. and the U.K., which provide the main markets for these products, should also become more aware of where the products come from. These 10 facts about child miners do not represent all the complexities that involve the lives of child miners. International nonprofit organizations are still working to create awareness and acquire more data on the use of children in the mining industry.

– Jayendrina Singha Ray
Photo: Flickr

Child Laborers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mineral resources abound in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, yet this apparent blessing has caused the problematic use of child labor in mines. The UNICEF estimates 40,000 child laborers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) mine for the resources enjoyed by the rest of the world.

Recently, human rights activists have protested the employment of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s artisanal miners because of reports of extremely poor working conditions. Additionally, the artisanal miners produce an estimated 10 to 25 percent of the world’s supply of cobalt, a mineral necessary for many electronic devices.

The issue of child laborers in the DRC is connected to the country’s poverty in nine ways:

  1. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s colonial past has caused enduring conflict and political stratification, creating avenues for the exploitation of children. The distance between those in power and the Congolese has persisted over the years. King Leopold of Belgium never visited his territory, yet used its resources. Joseph Kabila has been president since 2001 and has refused to leave office. In 2016, he banned public protests to restrict the voice of most Congolese. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s colonial roots have led to unrest, like the civil war from 1997 to 2003. Improving the lives of its citizens has not been a priority, and they remain in poverty and in underpaid, brutal working conditions. In 2014, the country had the highest rate of extreme poverty in the world due in large part to instability from political clashes and the abuse of children.
  1. Current exploitation of children for the world’s supply of cobalt is only the newest indignity in a long history of misuse. Beginning with colonization, this naturally rich country has become poor because so many countries have simply taken what they wanted. For example, its rubber trees fueled the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th centuries. What basically constituted slave labor accomplished the extraction of rubber, a precursor to today’s exploitation of child laborers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fuel technological innovation.
  1. When the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a colony, Belgium failed to regulate education. This left the country undeveloped and at the mercy of exploitative, low paying jobs. Belgium left education to missionaries, whose numbers were too few to educate the majority. Out of a population of 13 million, there were 16 university graduates by 1960, allowing very few Congolese the opportunity to break the cycle of exploitation.
  1. In independence, The Democratic Republic of the Congo still has not prioritized education, funneling more children into the mines. The country’s constitution guarantees a free elementary education, but poverty and instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have allowed very few schools in rural mining areas and with few other options, children as young as four go to work in the mines.
  1. The money children make in the mines often constitutes a primary source of income for their families. Child laborers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo only receive $2 to $3 per day.
  1. Mining causes death, injury and birth defects, propagating the poverty that caused the exploitation of child laborers. From the infants strapped to their mothers’ backs to the children working on their own, miners are exposed to toxic metals that cause breathing problems and birth defects. For example, miners in the southern areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo were found to have urinary cobalt concentrations that were 43 times the levels found in a control group. Birth defects occur that are so rare they have only ever been found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Additionally, no standardized safety equipment or procedures exist. In the resource-rich province of Katanga, an average of 6.6 children die a month from soil collapses caused by deep digging.
  1. The importance of cobalt in modern technology has only worsened exploitation as developed countries continue to take the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s resources. Cobalt is necessary to create lithium-ion batteries found in cell phones, laptops and electric cars. A battery for an electric car can require up to 15,000 grams of lithium-ion. As the most expensive raw material in these new batteries, it follows that cheap labor would be prioritized, leading to the exploitation of children.

  1. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has become economically dependent on these minerals and the children who mine them for little pay. While the country mines a variety of minerals, it is cobalt that the world depends on.
  1. Because the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been politically turbulent and poor, a lack of transparency in cobalt’s global supply chain exists. Cobalt is purchased by Chinese firms in the country and then sold to outside technological manufacturers like Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Tesla, Inc. and Samsung. While law requires American companies to verify the origins of minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, cobalt is not one of the named conflict minerals and thus exempt from this law.

The good news is, as the technology requiring cobalt becomes more prominent, many have protested this exploitation and made positive changes. In addition, here are some positive moves by several large corporations:

  • Apple cut ties with one of its largest artisanal cobalt suppliers because of the abuse of child laborers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Apple claims to internally consider cobalt as a conflict mineral.
  • Microsoft has publicly claimed a lack of tolerance for child labor for its cobalt.
  • Samsung and Tesla claim increased efforts in documenting supply chains.

If these companies continue refusing to condone the exploitation of children in mines, hope exists for child laborers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

– Charlotte Preston
Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Congo

Despite its vast material wealth, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has long been a very poor nation. Beneath its surface lies about $24 trillion in minerals, but this treasure has so far done nothing to alleviate poverty in this country. Half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line, living on less than $1 a day, especially those in rural communities. There is no single reason, but there are several causes of poverty in Congo that can be identified.

In rural areas, there has often been a lack of investment in basic infrastructure, such as roads, making transportation costs high. Farming methods are often antiquated and inefficient. Finally, there is a general lack of investment on the part of the government and the private sector in rural Congo.

Disease has always been one of the biggest causes of poverty in Congo. There were about 6.7 million reported cases of malaria in 2009, which is especially deadly to children. Cholera outbreaks are frequent. HIV/AIDS affects 5.3 percent of Congolese. Congo’s healthcare system is anemic, with hospitals often understaffed and underequipped.

The mining industry in Congo is particularly corrupt and is one of the largest causes of poverty in Congo. The precious metals mined in the Congo are necessary for a lot of technology taken for granted in the west: smartphones, computers, etc. Many foreign investors in the mining sector end up signing billion-dollar contracts with parties funding armed paramilitary groups, who siphoned some $185 million in 2008 from mining deals. The Congolese army is also dependent on funding from valuable minerals.

There has been some recent pushback against corruption in the Congolese mining industry. #Standwithcongo was launched by activist JD Steir with Robin Wright of House of Cards fame to get mining companies to disclose owners of the offshore shell companies involved with these mining deals.

Additionally, the Congolese army has been successful in pushing back the rebel M23 faction, creating peace in the region and eliminating at least one of the factions that profits from the corrupt mining industry.
The United States has not been silent on the matter either  The U.S. Financial Reform Act, also known as Dodd-Frank, requires companies whose products contain certain minerals to disclose whether or not those minerals came from the Congo, and show what steps they took to ensure such trade was not financing armed groups.  The Department of State has cooperated with Congo’s government and mining sector to establish supply chains for conflict-free minerals being mined in the eastern part of the country.
The causes of poverty in Congo are myriad, but there have been signs of improvement, thanks in part to the actions of the United States, unlikely activists and Congo’s own desire to see a new day.

Andrew Revord
Photo: Flickr

Mining in Malawi: Understanding the Conflict
The relationship between the mining industry and the country of Malawi is burdened with complexity. Mining in Malawi promises substantial economic growth, yet it simultaneously has the potential to violate human rights and destroy the natural ecosystem.

Malawi profits through the mining industry, as the country is rich in economic deposits of uranium. Both Malawian granite and sandstone host uranium reserves, such as the Karoo sandstone in Karonga, Malawi.

The district of Karonga lies on the northwest side of Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is one of the only freshwater lakes on the entire continent of Africa and is a key source of livelihood for over 1.5 million Malawians.

While clearly rich in resources, the country itself is impoverished. Due to this, the government has signed many agreements with extraction companies, hoping to increase exports.

Some national organizations are concerned about the mining industry’s effect on the precious and fragile ecosystem of Lake Malawi, yet the government has prioritized economic interests.

In 2007, a subsidiary of Paladin Energy took interest in Karonga due to a uranium deposit in the district. Due to the immense economic potential of the mine, called Kayelekera, the government agreed to let Paladin extract uranium in 2009. The government was issued 15 percent equity in the subsidiary.

As expected, the mine stimulated a crucial boost to the country’s foreign currency account. Over the following 10 years, the uranium industry overall is expected to raise Malawi’s GDP by 10 percent, account for 30 percent of exports and increase exports by 25 percent.

Due to company promises, many people in Malawi flocked to Karonga, hoping the uranium industry would generate employment, build clinics and increase general infrastructure in the new mining community.

Others, however, were not adequately informed that uranium mining was going to take place around their homes. None were aware that the Kayelekera mine would disrupt their entire way of life.

Reporters from Human Rights Watch conducted research for a year in Karonga, interviewing nearly 80 villagers who had been affected by uranium mining. They found that the general lack of government oversight and corporate responsibility harmed Malawians.

The construction of the Kayelekera mine caused villagers to be evicted from their homes. Many were only notified of the relocation at the last minute. Without any time to find other places to stay, these Malawians found themselves temporarily homeless.

While Paladin did offer compensation for the forced removal, the sum was insufficient to completely cover the cost of buying new land and building a new home. The company offered about MWK 50,000 to each family, which currently equates to about $70.

The uranium mining in Malawi damaged maize crops, dried rice fields and destroyed irrigation channels. As most of the villagers around Karonga live off of subsistence farming, threatened agriculture endangers survival.

Secrecy around the operations of the mine led to Malawian suspicion. When the people in Karonga asked the corporation to test the water for contamination, Paladin claimed to have a monitoring system in place. The company then refused to release any results. This lack of transparency has left many villagers concerned for their health.

As the laws surrounding mining in Malawi have not been updated since the Environmental Management Act of 1996, amendments are well overdue. In order to protect the interests of its citizens, the government of Malawi needs to strengthen regulations over extractive corporations, educate its people about the risks of mining, enforce institutional transparency and take measures to mitigate any damage.

The Kayelekera mine was closed in 2014 for repairs, yet the uranium industry in Malawi is just beginning. Moving forward, the Malawian government needs to enforce corporate responsibility on all companies who wish to extract natural resources from their country.

This conflict over mining in Malawi ignites fundamental questions over the delicate balance between economic development and social responsibility. With a more comprehensive legal framework, the government of Malawi may not have to choose one or the other. After further reform, the government can protect its people while simultaneously fostering social, institutional and economic development.

Larkin Smith

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Nauru
Located 4,000 km from Sydney, Australia is the smallest island in the world, expanding out 21 square kilometers — this is Nauru. What was once the wealthiest nation on the planet is now in shambles. The country thrived on agriculture and phosphate mining; however, now that all of the phosphate resources were stripped from the island, what remains is a wasteland.

Because of the staggering descent into poverty in Nauru, which is desperate for money, the nation has traded in the phosphate business for migrants. In 2001, Nauru entered into an agreement with Australia in which Nauru would hold refugees trying to enter Australia in return for foreign aid.

How did the wealthiest nation become desperate for foreign aid? After seizing independence from Britain in 1968, the nation’s inhabitants grew extremely wealthy from exporting phosphate. On top of that, the government revoked taxes and gave its inhabitants monthly stipends.

This way of governing provided the people with no incentive to find jobs, start businesses or provide for the economy. The money that was propagated eroded in corruption and poorly executed distribution of investments. By 1980, all the phosphate was basically depleted from the island. Poverty in Nauru increased from there. Now, 80 percent of the island is covered in limestone pinnacles, making it uninhabitable and utterly useless.

Mining in Nauru not only destroyed the land, but also the coastal waters as it has been contaminated due to phosphate runoff. Not only is there poverty in Nauru, but also a serious health crisis. A nation that had once cultivated the land for fresh crops and fished, is now home to some of the most obese and sick people.

In 2007, the World Health Organization Report recounted 94.5 percent of Nauru’s inhabitants as being overweight and 71.7 as being obese. The life expectancy in Nauru is around 50, and Type II diabetes is more prevalent there than in any other place in the world. Most of the population now lives off of prefabricated food shipped from Australia.

Nauru has become dependent on foreign aid mainly from Australia, New Zealand and Japan. A Sydney University geosciences professor by the name of John Connell expressed his belief that the only long-run solution to this crisis is a complete relocation of Nauru’s inhabitants.

However, as of now, the nation is getting some of its income from selling passports to foreign nationals and taking in refugees other countries refuse. In hopes to help with the poverty in Nauru, in 2001, Australia set up the Nauru detention center and provided many of the nation’s inhabitants with jobs. In 2012, Australia set up a second facility, which sparked hope in hearts of the inhabitants — a hope for a better future.

Now that asylums are in high demand due to the excessive numbers of refugees, Nauru’s facilities have been in full swing; however, poverty in Nauru is still very much prevalent. Although it may seem like a dead end, it appears that Australia still insists on using Nauru’s detention center because it is refusing to admit more refugees. This nation’s unusual and destructive past has steered Nauru into an impasse, but the future of the small island still remains unclear.

Kayla Mehl

Photo: Flickr

Tigui CamaraTigui Camara, a former model, is one of the youngest mining executives in Africa and the only woman in Guinea with her own mining company. Given that mining in West Africa is predominately run by middle-aged men, the magnitude of Camara’s success is remarkable.

Camara’s career began on the runway when she was only 14 years old — and soon after escalated into the business world. While living in Morocco, Camara was able to graduate high school early and earn a college degree in business management. Several years later, Camara moved to the U.S. and was hired by a modeling agency in New York.

During her time in the modeling field, Camara made friends with jewelers who had companies in Africa and was inspired to take action. Camara remembers thinking, “If he could do it, I could do it. He is not even from Africa or Guinea, but he has been successful at doing this. Being a native, why can’t I also be successful?”

Camara began saving in order to open her own mining company and she is now the Chairman and CEO of Camara Gold and Mining Network and the CEO of Tigui Mining Group. Her companies acquire and develop mining assets with a focus on gold, diamond and associated minerals.

However, Camara faced setbacks when she hired a business partner who was embezzling the company’s funds for the first year. She also set up her business during a time of political turmoil in Guinea. The country had just undergone a political revolt and 2009 was marked by violent protests and civil unrest.

To make matters worse, Guinea was hit by the Ebola crisis, which began in December 2013 and continued for around two years. It shut down the economy and businesses were hit hard. As a result, Camara stopped all activity until it was safe to return to work.

Finally in recent months, Camara has been able to stabilize the business with proper funding and investors. She claims, “While infrastructure and electricity shortages have created a challenging business environment in the mineral-rich nation, the government is taking steps to improve its industries and encourage foreign investment.”

This provides the U.S. a unique opportunity to purchase gold, diamond and other mineral materials from a deserving business leader. Tigui Camara had to overcome many obstacles in order to get where she is today. Her background in the fashion industry hindered her ability to succeed as an entrepreneur at first but now she has a well-established name and is respected in the mining industry in West Africa.

Megan Hadley

Sources: How We Made it in Africa, Tigui Mining Group, Black Enterprise

Artisanal gold mining is the process of extracting metals from the earth by independent miners, who utilize the mined metal for small-scale independent projects. These miners, or artisans, work independently of mining companies, and are very often non-compliant with regulations pertaining to mining and metallurgy.

Artisanal mining of gold is a significant source of income in low-income countries with noteworthy deposits of gold, such as Colombia and Peru. Mining companies hold the monopoly over most of the gold ore in the areas, and the miners employed by their contractors are not particularly well-paid. Artisanal mining allows for the miner to extract as well as finish the gold product, which gives a higher monetary return than the wage labor in the mines.

Notwithstanding the somewhat uncertain nature of artisanal mining, it employs an estimated 30 million people worldwide, mostly in the developing countries. Some people adopt this practice seasonally as an alternate to farming; in other instances, gold mining is their sole source of livelihood.

Despite the financial incentive of independent mining, the challenges associated with it are substantial as well. The most immediate one of these challenges is the issue of extracting the gold metal from its mined ore. To ensure a decent yield, an effective metallurgy process needs to be used. In absence of industrial purification, the next best alternative is usually the use of mercury extractions.

Mercury extraction of gold was once a popular technique for the metallurgical removal of gold from its ore. It has largely been replaced with other methods now due to its potential for health and environmental hazards. In developing countries, this process is still popular for artisanal mining. The method involves amalgamating gold ore with mercury metal. The gold metal is melted into the mercury, while the impurities are separated. The gold-mercury amalgam is then heated to a high temperature, where the mercury evaporates, and pure gold is left behind.

The method, although effective, uses the highly toxic mercury metal. The evaporation process yields the highly dangerous mercury vapor. The improper handling of mercury in artisanal mining is a major issue for the environment, as well as the health of the miners. Mercury can be inhaled in airborne droplets from the extraction process. The inhalation can cause potentially fatal damage to the lungs, as well as kidney failure, seizures and permanent brain damage. Mercury poisoning in pregnant women can cause long-term cerebral damage to the fetus.

The implications of improper handling of mercury are vast; international regulations encourage the elimination or reduction of mercury usage in metal purification. Nevertheless, almost 400 metric tons of airborne, toxic mercury are produced from gold mining each year. The miners and people in close vicinity of these mines are the ones to face the harshest consequences of mercury pollution. The continued usage of mercury extraction is a manifestation of poverty of resources, both financial and educational, that hinders the safety of artisanal mining.

To eradicate this harmful practice, the World Bank has launched several programs that educate miners to utilize safer, cost-effective methods. These programs facilitate a better selling price and demand for products manufactured through these alternative methods. In a program initiated by the US State Department, 10,000 Peruvian miners were taught alternative metallurgy methods by 2013, and encouraged to sell the ores at a higher price than the amalgamated gold price. These methods successfully decreased the mercury production in the area by 50 percent.

The problem of mercury pollution and the health hazards it poses to artisanal miners in developing countries is one that has garnered much attention globally. Training the miners in better extraction techniques, as well as incentives to trade crude ore can eliminate the problems associated with mercury without damaging the livelihoods of the artisanal miners.

Atifah Safi

Sources: World Bank, Science Direct, Human Rights Watch, EPA
Photo: The Ecologist