The COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time, with governments and health services alike racing to slow the spread of the virus. But COVID-19 is much more than a health crisis. By stretching and stressing the capacity of each country it touches, COVID-19 has the potential to create devastating social, economic and political crises that will have lasting repercussions.
Despite unprecedented progress against poverty, with the number of people living in extreme poverty declining by more than half in recent decades, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to about 736 million as of 2015, even before the pandemic many in society still lack the necessities to thrive. COVID-19 threatens to undo progress achieved towards sustainable development. This is because poverty is more than a lack of income and resources. It manifests itself in hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, and a lack of participation in decisionmaking. All areas of human development have been affected, albeit to varying degrees, both directly and indirectly by COVID-19.
As things stand, COVID-19 is overwhelming public health systems even in developed countries. It will almost certainly do the same in countries with underdeveloped health systems, where access to even the most basic public health interventions like frequent handwashing are not guaranteed. This weakness is often mirrored by a lack of access to social protection resulting in economic, gender and social inequalities being exacerbated. Mining can help reduce poverty through direct employment, sourcing goods and services locally and the payment of taxes and royalties, which enable the development of essential social and economic infrastructure.
Mining with principles
Drawing on its experience of managing other crises – including outbreaks of Ebola, tuberculosis and malaria, and catastrophic health and safety events – and supporting sustainable development often in remote contexts, the mining and metals industry is well placed to support local communities and make a positive contribution to society through this extraordinary period. Meeting an unprecedented challenge requires unprecedented unity, empathy and consideration for one another. Around the world we have seen those qualities on display, from ICMM members supporting public health systems and affected households and businesses to providing financial assistance.
- In consultation with South Africa’s Department of Basic Education, school principals and teachers, African Rainbow Minerals is working with local schools to support education. Schools in the poor rural and urban areas which do not have internet access or facilities are being provided with study guides, scientific calculators, dictionaries and other educational equipment and facilities. This includes building additional classrooms, computer centres and laboratories in all the nine provinces of South Africa to assist managing the excessively high number of students to a classroom in many schools. Sibanye Stillwater is also supporting education in South Africa by financing a sanitisation and catch up programme in North West, Free State and Gauteng worth ZAR3 million (US$171,000).
- Barrick Gold has consulted with local, regional and national partners to establish and respond to the unique needs of each jurisdiction and ensure effective and accurate information, relating to the virus, is communicated to key leaders, local authorities and community members. In Papua New Guinea, for example, Barrick Gold is engaging with the Enga Provincial Health Authority to determine gaps in capacity and how the Porgera Mine can support. Similar activities are happening in Veladero, Argentina and Pueblo Viejo, Dominican Republic among others.
- In Western Australia, BHP has committed AU$300,000 (US$200,000) to Lifeline WA to help the organisation deliver an essential suicide prevention service at a time of heightened stress and anxiety. This contribution, made through newly established Vital Resources Fund, was established to support regional Australian communities facing significant challenges as a result of COVID-19. Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) is supporting Labrador West Intimate Partner Violence Taskforce to support women in abusive situations needing to self-isolate. IOC made a fully furnished house available to Hope Haven. Barrick Gold’s Hemlo mining camp has also committed US$10,000 to support the local Marjorie House women’s shelter and US$20,000 to Superior Northern Victim Services.
- Members are also using their social and communications channels to promote health and kindness in the community. In many locations around the world, the wearing of facemasks is recommended or required. Accessing these is often difficult as supplies are prioritised. Freeport-McMoRan has used its social channels to help people create their own using an old T-shirt. Gold Fields has released posters on ‘10 things that are totally normal to feel right now’ to promote a focus on mental-health, hygiene and social distancing. Norsk Hydro, in Brazil, and Vale, in Canada, have produced puzzles, games, and other play materials to help support communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- At Las Bambas in Peru, MMG has donated food and basic necessity packages to almost 6,000 families in the communities in the Apurimac region and communities in the region of Cusco. Las Bambas has also repurposed a dust control unit to disinfect streets in nearby towns, in coordination with local authorities and approved by the Peruvian health authorities. Similarly, Norsk Hydro has donated BRL2 million (US$373,000) in food baskets to municipalities where they operate in Brazil. While in Colombia, Glencore’s Grupo Prodeco team has worked with local organisations to support vulnerable families by donating 4,700 provisions kits. In South Africa, Anglo American and AngloGold Ashanti have distributed 11,000 care or food parcels to local communities. Newmont Australia partnered with SecondBite, a leading national food rescue organisation that redistributes surplus fresh food to local organisations, to purchase a forklift truck to help the organisation keep up with increased demand during COVID-19. Through its global charity the Alcoa Foundation, Alcoa is providing more than $420,000 to ensure local people have food and access to important support services in Western Australia.
In the context of COVID-19, it has never been more important that the mining and metals industry helps to build local and national resilience through its actions. As the global community responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, ICMM members will continue to support local and national services, both through significant donations to COVID-19 funds and in the delivery of practical support to those in need.
For more information on the actions taken by ICMM company members – visit the ICMM website or download our briefing paper COVID-19: MINING WITH PRINCIPLES TO ADDRESS A HEALTH AND SOCIAL CRISIS.