UN-backed conference on African diamond trade spotlights mining communities

UN-backed conference on African diamond trade spotlights mining communities

With up to half a million small-scale miners in West Africa digging up diamonds – which help fuel conflict but could also boost development in the region – a United Nations-backed ministerial conference in Monrovia, Liberia highlighted the problems of poor mining communities that often have no other source of income.

“The background paper that was presented to this conference talks about anywhere between 250,000 and 500,000 diggers,” said Steven Ursino, Liberia Country Director for the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which organized the three-day conference with the Liberian Government and the non-governmental organization (NGO) International Alert. “That’s a sizeable population.”

“And when you look at that within the context of their families and communities, then we’re talking about how diamonds can impact the natural resources of Liberia, as well as the other countries of the Mano River Union,” he commented, referring to the sub-region that also includes Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which also have representatives at the conference.

Most of the diamonds in the area come from alluvial mining, according to UNDP. Individual miners exploit gravel beds lying on or near the surface, using low cost, simple tools, often in oppressive conditions.

International Alert estimates that the diggers working in these pits produce more than 90 per cent of West Africa’s diamond output, worth between $240 million and $300 million per year.

Participants in the Monrovia conference agreed to create a task force that will focus on the future development of communities dependent on the alluvial mining sector.

By focusing on the human dimension of the diamond industry, UNDP says that its Diamonds for Development programme is complementing other initiatives meant to ensure that sales of rough diamonds do not finance conflicts, such as Security Council embargoes and the Kimberley Process.

Begun in 2000 by southern African diamond-producing countries, the Kimberley Process led to the adoption in November 2002 in Interlaken, Switzerland, of the international Certification Scheme for rough diamonds, based primarily on national certification schemes and on internationally-agreed minimum standards.