Africa, a continent rich in precious natural resources, breathtaking landscapes, and an abundance of fertile, farmable land, was once a paradise with the capacity to support massive, healthy populations. In fact, it did just that for thousands of years, and contrary to popular belief and the deleterious effects of irresponsible diamond mining, still has the potential to do so.
Today, countries such as South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana are prime examples of thriving economies that are not only stable, but they are growing at a very healthy rate. The diamond revenue produced in these nations is helping to build schools, roads, and hospitals. It’s putting food and safe drinking water on the table, and providing a wealth of social services to people in both urban and rural areas. All of this growth and development can be attributed to one major idea: regulation. Regulation of the diamond mining industry means the difference between exploitation and prosperity. On the contrary, it is the very absence of diamond mining regulation that has led to the ecological damage, the scourge of disease, and the devastating civil unrest in diamond producing countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Here are the three most damaging effects of irresponsible diamond mining, and how they can be eliminated with the practice of responsible mining.
1. Ecological Damage
Irresponsible diamond mining has been the source of substantial soil erosion, calamitous deforestation, and increasing air and water pollution. This has led to the endangerment and extinction of several animal species, as well as an increase of disease stricken communities. Unlike the mining of most precious metals, however, diamond mining can be performed without the use of toxic chemicals. There are several environmental standards that must be met in order to dramatically reduce the environmental impact of diamond mines that wish to remain Kimberley compliant. These include: minimizing their carbon emissions by utilizing battery-powered vehicles, using mud pumps during off-peak periods, and installing timers on all boilers.
2. Civil Unrest
The unregulated diamond market in several African countries has led to deplorable civil unrest on a scale that is unparalleled. Conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds, are diamonds that are sold in order to fund civil wars and other forms of armed conflict. The Clean Diamond Trade Act was signed by George W. Bush in 2003, which mandates that no diamonds are to be imported to or exported from the United States without a Kimberley Process Certificate. Oftentimes, the source of civil unrest is spawned from the inequality of wealth distribution within the diamond industry. Miners work long hours, endure serious health complications, and are paid less than $3 per day in return for their labor. This kind of treatment can easily lead to poorly led uprisings and rampant violence. In the following video, Martin Rapaport travels through Sierra Leone to talk to a group of diamond miners about his efforts to create a Fair Trade market within the town of Kono, where the miners live and work.
3. Transmission of Diseases
Mines that are not Kimberley compliant are often abandoned once they prove to be unfruitful. This is especially the case with a lot of small-scale mining in countries like Sierra Leone where abandoned mining pits litter the landscape. Once abandoned, these pits collect stagnant rainwater, which is ideal breeding grounds for mosquitos, infecting entire communities with malaria. The issue of stagnant water sources is easily remedied by both refilling and replacing topsoil from exploration sites. In addition, booming, unregulated sex trade markets often accompany unregulated diamond producing economies. For this reason, many of these countries suffer profoundly from the scourge of sexual diseases, including HIV and AIDS.
In conclusion, the diamond industry can be a boon for well-regulated economies, providing the funds for a healthy infrastructure of education, health and other social services, or it can be the source of ever-increasing devastation, exploitation, and degradation. The difference is a mere matter of regulation and responsibility.