Artisanal miners live and work in tough conditions, even in the best of times. The global pandemic is making their lives harder.
Trafigura has supported artisanal miners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for several years in partnership with the development NGO, Pact. The Mutoshi Pilot Project in Lualaba Province, has raised standards by prioritising safety with its collaborative model of semi-mechanised, small-scale mining. The Trafigura Foundation has worked alongside Pact to tackle the pressing issue of child labour in artisanal mining in the wider community.
In response to the threat of the COVID-19, operations at the Mutoshi Pilot Project were officially suspended by the concession holder, Chemaf, in March 2020.
While the Mutoshi Pilot project was suspended, its suspension inevitably resulted in many simply seeking work elsewhere. The pandemic also affected demand for cobalt with a fall in prices. Many artisanal mines responded by mining other minerals, such as copper and gold, elsewhere to earn a living.
There is an elevated risk of transmission of COVID-19 among artisanal miners who typically work close to others in confined spaces. And they are in a double bind: they cannot afford to become ill and they cannot afford to take time off work.
In 2020, Trafigura and Pact teamed up to help the Mutoshi community manage the effects of COVID-19 more effectively. In our latest project, Trafigura injected USD300,000 into a Pact initiative that sought to support the Mutoshi community through the community cooperative, COMIAKOL, that for two years had worked on the Mutoshi Pilot Project.
These communities currently lack the resources to invest in effective COVID-19 prevention. The project aims to fortify local public health capacity. It is extending community access to masks and soap. It has installed handwashing stations at strategic public locations.
All of this equipment is sourced locally. Some 65,000 masks and 18,000 bars of soap are being produced in Mutoshi, with training and support from the project partners. Mutoshi miners and vulnerable members of the surrounding community are receiving free masks and soaps – 32,750 masks and 9,300 soap bars have already been allocated here. The remaining production will be sold locally, generating much-needed alternative income for these families.
Alongside these practical measures is a public health communications campaign to inform local people about symptoms, prevention measures and treatment options. That includes training for the 64,000-strong Mutoshi community in COVID-19 prevention and PPE protection. Posters, leaflets and radio advertising are extending the message to over half a million people in Kolwezi.