Artisanal mining has a terrible reputation. A widespread perception is that this low-tech and labor-intensive way to extract natural resources “may cause severe environmental and health risks, conﬂict and generally few economic beneﬁts.” Yet an estimated 40.5 million (+/- 25%) people around the world are directly working in these mines. What persuades them to do so?
The ancient cities of Bagan, Myanmar, and Luang Prabang, of Lao PDR offer today’s travelers a nostalgic vision of South East Asia: timeless landscapes and exquisite architecture. This vision is in sharp contrast to the rapid pace of recent economic activity in both countries. Myanmar recorded very strong investor interest in last year’s bidding round for oil and gas blocks. This was a clear signal of the successful reform process undertaken so far. In Lao PDR, the mining industry has increased annual production from around US$ 10 million in the early 2000s to well above US$ 1 billion a decade later – contributing around 15 percent of Government revenues in recent years.
I am a mining specialist, not a conflict specialist. But on my recent trip to Sierra Leone, I was struck by the ever-present need to look at extractive industries through the lens of conflict prevention. The devastating 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone, in large part fueled by local alluvial diamond mining, is impossible to separate from future mining development. With over 50,000 deaths due to the civil war, we cannot ignore the link between conflict and mining.
It’s 2013 and already, my calendar for the year is filling up with activities, projects and events. But this year, I’m even more excited than usual to look up at my wall, because this year’s calendar focuses on the World Bank’s Gender and Extractive Industries (EI) program. With a different cartoon each month, conceptualized by members of the Oil, Gas, and Mining team, the calendar features different dimensions of gender and the oil, gas, and mining industries, and the lessons we’ve been learning through our work in extractives-impacted countries and communities.