Mining for development: Gold or bust?

    A gold mine worker in Liberia. Photo by: Travis Lupick / CC BY-NC-SA

    The curtain fell on the AusAID-led International Mining for Development Conference on Wednesday, but questions remain on whether mining could lead to social benefits or if the Australian aid agency should move on.

    Australia cemented its new role as a global adviser on mining for development at the two-day International Mining for Development Conference in Sydney. More than 600 delegates from 69 countries met to discuss how mining activities will come with sustainable social and economic impacts through the effective use of natural resources in developing countries under AusAID’s $126 million Mining for Development Initiative.

    But an Australian aid watchdog is skeptical that the initiative can live up to its promise.

    AID/WATCH Director Thulsi Narayanasamy told Devex that previous attempts to convert mining revenues into positive development outcomes had limited success. She argued that AusAID will do better to help explore alternative means of development and livelihood to stop mining from becoming “the inevitable and only option for countries that are resource-rich.”

    This means, she explained, reconsidering AusAID’s investment in “promoting” mining overseas and its reduction of climate-related aid, in light of what Narayanasamy believes is the link between both issues.

    “If AusAID is committed to sustainable development, these initiatives and explorations into alternatives need to be supported, whether it’s sustainable agriculture, sustaining local subsistence economies, exploring recycling mined resources, or working to shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy,” she added.

    Contesting Australia’s role as a global example of mining for development, Narayanasamy mentioned three ways in which the Australian government seems to be mishandling its own mining industry: its failure to implement a mining tax, reports of Australian mining companies operating overseas with impunity, and evidence demonstrating that the “resource curse” has affected the country.

    At the conference, AusAID First Assistant Director General James Gilling responded to these concerns.

    “Their concern is our concern, their concern is about whether or not mining benefits poor people and our position is it doesn’t always benefit poor people and that’s exactly what we’re talking about [here],” he said.

    Gilling rejected claims that AusAID is backing the commercial interests of Australian mining companies through the initiative.

    “We don’t promote mining, mining exists just as agriculture exists,” Gilling said.

    The official called mining a “fleeting gift” and highlighted the importance of working with mining companies, governments and communities in the developing world through the initiative to ensure that the billions of dollars of mineral wealth in store will be “invested sensibly” in reducing poverty.

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    About the author

    • Johanna Morden

      Johanna Morden is a community development worker by training and a global development journalist by profession. As a former Devex staff writer based in Manila, she covered the Asian Development Bank as well as Asia-Pacific's aid community at large. Johanna has written for a variety of international publications, covering social issues, disasters, government, ICT, business, and the law.