Partnering for better health and safety of Africa's artisanal miners

Rural mining community in Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by: Karen Hayes / Pact

Across Africa’s Great Lakes region, nearly 2 million people depend on small-scale, artisanal mining to provide for themselves and their families. For many, the job is a daily gamble.

For Safari Kulimushi, a 47-year-old father of 13 in the South Kivu area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, international efforts to promote the flow of conflict-free minerals have meant he no longer spends time worrying about violence at the makeshift tin mine where he works.

But the next phase of improving conditions on the ground — working to prevent occupational health and safety dangers in the mines, like cave-ins, tunnel collapses and landslides — must begin. This means educating workers about important measures they can take to protect themselves from injuries, or at worst, death. It also means helping miners to avoid diseases like silicosis, an often-fatal chronic lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of dust.

“A miner is really someone that lives one day at a time,” says Safari.

Over the past five years, more than 150 occupational health and safety incidents have been reported through the only internationally recognized traceability system in Congo alone. Many of these mishaps affect more than one miner — a mine collapse or rock slide could impact hundreds, for example.

What makes these statistics even more sobering is that with targeted interventions, many of the risks can be mitigated. With basic health and safety training for artisanal miners — on topics such as first aid and CPR, safe use of chemicals, how to properly reinforce a mine tunnel and what to do in the moments after a collapse — we can reduce serious injuries and deaths.

Since the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, nongovernmental organizations, companies and industry associations have worked hard to create a responsible minerals sourcing program in the Great Lakes region. Pact and Qualcomm believe the next phase of these efforts is to support projects that improve the on-the-ground conditions associated with mining.

That’s where our partnership comes in. In 2014, Pact, a global international development organization, and Qualcomm Inc., a global mobile technology company, partnered to improve health and safety at mines across Congo. We are actively working on the ground to make a difference, training artisanal miners and building a safety culture among workers, site owners and financiers.

With Qualcomm’s support, Pact is developing a graphic training manual to address the most common and serious risks at mine sites in Katanga, Congo, based on a mining engineer’s recommendations for health and safety. Many Congolese miners cannot read and have had little formal education, so the manual leverages easy-to-understand images. Pact plans to conduct hands-on trainings and safety lessons over the course of the next year, integrating the safety demonstrations with Pact’s existing mineral traceability and development programs at mine sites and making sure the knowledge takes hold.

In the 10 years that it has worked with mining communities, Pact has built a unique footprint at more than 1,400 mine sites across Congo and Africa’s Great Lakes region, where millions of people take part in small scale and artisanal mining. The lessons we learn and training we develop in Katanga could be the first step toward improving the health and safety of more miners across the region. The Dutch government recently committed funds to help scale up health and safety trainings based on the groundwork we’re laying now.

Our work shows that when businesses, civil society and governments collaborate, even small investments hold tremendous power to help people in need. Qualcomm is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to a project that will have a meaningful impact on health, safety and quality of life for miners in the Great Lakes region.

In addition to mineral traceability and mine site health and safety programs, Pact works to reduce child labor in mining, empower women miners and expand livelihood options in mining communities.  

Countless opportunities for a safer, more prosperous livelihood lie only a promise away for miners like Kulimushi and their families. In partnership, Pact and Qualcomm are helping Kulimushi, his family and Katanga to look beyond just “one day at time,” as they once did, to ownership of a brighter future. In our shared promise, there’s power. With yours alongside ours, there’s transformation -- not only throughout the Great Lakes region but in mining communities around the world.

Help us make their daily gamble a long-term safe bet. Visit Pact’s Oct. 6 event, “A World of Promise: Advancing Mining Communities,” at the National Geographic Society to learn how. Or post your promise on Pact’s Promise Wall using the hashtag #mining4change. Odds are, like Pact and Qualcomm, you can help hundreds of thousands of men and women working in artisanal and small-scale mining secure what all people deserve — the chance to earn a dignified living in a safe environment free from fear and violence.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the authors

  • Pact communications

    Mark Viso is president and CEO of Pact, an international nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., working in more than 25 countries worldwide.
  • Paul Guckian

    Paul Guckian is vice president, regulatory at Qualcomm Technologies Inc. He is responsible for regulatory compliance of all products and services covering radio compliance, safety and environmental regulations. Guckian, an industry leader in regulatory compliance, has more than 25 years of experience in developing quality and regulatory compliance programs across different industries including telecom, medical, aviation, automotive and banking.

Join the Discussion