Diamond Development Initiative on the Ebola Crisis
It is with grave concern that I share our perspective on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Thankfully, none of our partners on the ground have been infected. However, their communities and their livelihoods are under siege.
The Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) is currently engaged in projects in Sierra Leone, which are helping to reform the artisanal mining sector and enable positive change for diggers and their communities. In particular, the Development Diamond Standards project (DDS) is enabling artisanal diamond miners and operators to systematically adopt responsible mining practices that are independently verifiable, and complement and help safeguard broader responsible sourcing efforts in the industry. With the country still rebuilding from an eleven-year conflict (1991-2002), the vast majority of miners still live in abject poverty and have limited access to opportunities in other sectors of the economy.
Now faced with the Ebola virus, we fear that the great strides made in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, could be reversed by the insidious fear and chaos that accompany the disease. Ebola not only attacks the human body, it attacks the fabric of society, as the trust built over years erodes and familiar rituals of business, friendship and family become vectors for disease.
We have been monitoring information provided regularly by our employees on the ground. As it currently stands, miners’ incomes are shrinking, in large part because buyers have kept away from mining sites and the country as a whole.
Statistics from the Ministry of Mineral Resources indicate a 15% decrease in legitimate mining activities (as measured by the number of licenses issued and renewed).
However, anecdotal evidence suggests that, as other income generating activities continue to slow down, there is actually an increase in the overall number of people digging for diamonds and gold – presumably outside of legal channels.
Local food production in the areas surrounding the mining areas is down. More alarmingly, key hygiene products such as soap and disinfectants have seen a 35-50% price increase in the mining districts in which we work. On top of that, people have a limited understanding and few of the resources needed to reduce the risk of infection.
That is why DDI’s first intervention aims to ensure that miners and artisanal mining communities, hard to reach by traditional channels, have access to the basic hygiene supplies and information needed to protect themselves.
But what other challenges have arisen alongside the disease? What opportunities might there be to mitigate risks to personal security, to local economies and preserve the gains made? What new gains might be made thanks to the disruption of traditional, unfavorable practices and power dynamics?
We will continue to explore these questions in greater depth and to share what we learn, as we look beyond the emergency to how we can support the recovery and continued resilience of those affected.
We gratefully accept donations to support our efforts in mining communities, and we look forward to a better future ahead for these miners, their families and their communities, after Ebola.
For more information or to make a donation, please write to [email protected]..