The lives and livelihoods of artisanal and small-scale miners were precarious even before the Covid-19 pandemic. About 42 million people around the world work in artisanal and small-scale mining, or ASM, which involves digging minerals from the earth by hand or with basic tools such as picks and shovels. ASM workers routinely face exploitation, unstable incomes and health and safety hazards such as tunnel collapses and dust-borne lung diseases.
Covid-19 has brought significant new challenges. From Africa to Asia, government lockdown measures, operational shutdowns and price volatility in the minerals sector have caused marked reductions in miners’ incomes, and without the option to stay home or distanced from other workers, miners face considerable risk of contracting coronavirus. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mining is a primary industry and economic driver, the disruptions are rippling through entire communities. At its lowest during the pandemic, the price of cobalt was down 22%. This was coupled with a 25% devaluation of the local currency (the Congolese franc), creating widespread economic distress. Pact noted an increase in child labor in DRC mines due to school closures and minimal activities available for children during lockdown.
These communities also face increased public health risks due to a lack of resources to purchase Covid-19 prevention supplies, such as face masks, soap and handwashing stations. This is especially true for artisanal miners who must continue working near others.
This is why Pact, Trafigura and Chemaf are partnering in DRC to provide direct support to communities that have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. With funding from Chemaf and Trafigura, Pact is expanding our work with artisanal mining communities to address these unique Covid-19 challenges. Launching this month, the effort will focus on production, distribution and training on Covid-19 prevention supplies.
Since 2018, Pact and the Trafigura Foundation have been working to reduce child labor in mining in the Lualaba province of DRC by increasing the capacity of local organizations and government agencies to address child labor, supporting financial literacy and savings groups for families and providing vocational education training for 15- to 17-year-olds currently engaged in mining. Pact also supports Trafigura's mineral suppliers in the development and ongoing maintenance of a responsible sourcing program.
The newly expanded work to address Covid-19 will focus on community members reached through these existing programs. Pact and Trafigura will provide the training, tools and ongoing support necessary for community members to learn how to make Covid-19 prevention supplies, including face masks, soap and handwashing stations using local materials.
Half of the face masks and soap and 100% of the handwashing stations produced will be purchased by Trafigura for donation to vulnerable households and use in public spaces, while the remaining 50% of face masks and soap will be sold directly by the producers to other members of their communities, increasing local supply and supplementing household incomes.
The distribution and sale of these public health supplies will be accompanied by Covid-19 outreach and education programs, including radio ads, designed in collaboration with the provincial health zone and other government agencies to reinforce key messages about disease prevention and stop misinformation about the virus.
For more information on Pact’s work with artisanal and small-scale mining communities, visit www.pactworld.org/mining.
Lead image: Artisanal miners at work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo: Pact)