A Call to Action to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) communities
By the Artisanal Gold Council (AGC)
The COVID-19 pandemic is going to have profound impacts on the estimated 100 million people in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) communities in the 80+ countries. AGC is, therefore, reaching out to stakeholders involved in, and focused on, improving the sector by recommending concrete actions with the aim to:
- Reduce the impacts of COVID-19 on ASGM communities;
- Counter the potentially devastating effects of COVID-19 on livelihoods by ensuring that the support to current ASGM projects continues unabated; and
- Ensure that ASGM communities are more resilient and better prepared for other potential shocks in the future by accelerating efforts towards a more profitable, more organized, and safer ASGM sector.
To support these aims, the following actions are recommended:
1. Seek commitment: Advocate governments and other potential funders to commit to continued and increased support for ASGM communities during the COVID-19 crisis and afterwards, representing both an emergency response and creating increased economic resilience.
2. Act responsibly and proactively: As organizations involved in international development, we need to obtain regular updates about the situation on the ground and ensure that our national teams and partners in the different countries of the world are safe, with adequate workplace protocols in place. Teams should act as behavioral examples for ASGM communities and fully respect and abide by COVID-19 policies and guidelines.
3. Manage impacts on existing operations: Take measures to prevent existing ASGM projects from collapsing or suffering severe setbacks by obtaining a deep understanding of project cash flows, by holding strategic discussions with funders to ensure they are aware of the importance and vulnerability of ASGM and are helping to keep resources flowing; or by preparing for the possibility of unforeseen disruptions. While travel is restricted, carry out programmatic activities creatively through online platforms like webinars and video conferencing. Have national teams and project partners reach out to ASGM project sites with information on COVID-19 and any operational changes that are needed.
4. Disseminate COVID-19 health advice within ASGM communities: Support an effective response to COVID-19 in ASGM communities that are connected to projects through national teams and partners by providing information and training on COVID-19 from reputable sources such as WHO and in line with national public health policies to counter uncertainties and misinformation. Local action is key to fight the pandemic!
5. Share knowledge: Stakeholders working with ASGM communities should share reliable information through their websites, social media, and networks. Reliable information about how COVID-19 is impacting ASGM communities is only slowly emerging (see our blog: https://www.artisanalgold.org/2020/03/possible-impacts-of-covid-19-on-asgm-communities/). This includes direct impacts on health and impacts on the local economy, for example the price of gold or the supply of goods. Information is crucial to best direct the few resources that may be available to mitigate impacts.
6. Build a public health network for ASGM communities: The crisis caused by COVID-19 sets the stage for the development of an ASGM-focused public health network that can perform research, fill knowledge gaps, share best practices, and provide public health services. Such a network can initially target COVID-19 related action, like sharing health information, providing education and collecting health data, but can later be broadened to include other important ASGM occupational health problems and social determinants of health. Data on ASGM communities is very sparse, but these communities are important economic hubs, and they may be excellent nodes in public health networks that can serve as sentinel sites and participate in monitoring and evaluating rural health status.
7. Buy artisanal gold: Keep gold supply chains operating or re-activate them to ensure livelihoods are protected and financial support to artisanal gold mining communities is maximized during COVID-19 crises. Despite the strength of the international gold price, artisanal gold miners have seen drastic drops to their income overnight due to disruptions in local-regional-global gold supply chain. Buying their gold is a highly effective way to keep vital income flowing to remote rural communities. Permitting and incentivising formal gold supply chain actors to operate, in line with national public health policies, can greatly help avoid income disruptions to vulnerable artisanal mining communities. Governments from both producing countries and buying markets should consider the benefits of classifying the gold supply chain an essential service, and to provide clear guidelines and protocols for supply chain operations to continue in alignment with national and global COVID-19 containment and control efforts.
For updates on the impacts of COVID-19 on ASGM communities and to join the conversation, follow AGC’s Blog: https://www.artisanalgold.org/2020/03/possible-impacts-of-covid-19-on-asgm-communities/
ASGM Economy: The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on the gross economy of most of the 80+ ASGM countries. On the one side, there may be an influx of workers into the ASGM sector as formal jobs are lost in other sectors and value of gold rises (particularly relative to local currencies). On the other side, a strong downward pressure on local gold prices is already observable in many countries as disruptions occur in the gold supply chain. The loss of income and potential labour disruptions will impact the health and income of ASGM miners, their communities, and the ASGM service sector.
Vulnerability of ASGM communities: Though ASGM communities are quite heterogeneous, they can be considered a highly vulnerable group in the COVID-19 pandemic particularly when located in remote areas, live as informal workers on a hand to mouth basis without any income security and/or workers have to frequently migrate. ASGM communities located in remote areas have limited access to health care services, limiting the opportunities for early screening, access to information, and adequate treatment. Limited infrastructure and communication can impede preventive measures such as hygiene and social distancing protocols. Occupational and livelihood-related risk factors such as silicosis, tuberculosis, and mercury intoxication increase the severity of COVID-19. Furthermore, shifts and tensions in ASGM communities and populations caused by an influx of predominantly male workers could easily aggravate gender inequalities, making women and girls even more vulnerable.
Responses to the pandemic: The immediate international and national first-line response mechanisms focus on the health care sector (e.g., screening, isolation, treatment) and community-based measures (e.g., hygiene and social distancing) to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. However, mitigation of short- and long-term economic impacts of COVID-19 on livelihoods will also require a concerted effort and allocation of resources.
For updates on the impacts of COVID-19 on artisanal and small-scale gold mining communities and to join the conversation, follow AGC’s Blog.