Mining in the Green Heart of Africa

High demand for minerals a threat for forests, rivers

 / ©: WWF
Mining activities in Africa can be much damaging for the environment
The soils of the Congo Basin contain very important mineral resources, including oil, iron, copper, manganese, uranium as well as diamonds and gold. These resources provide significant revenues for the region’s countries.

The impact of mining on the Congo Basin is growing. High mineral prices and demand (especially from China) are encouraging the development of mineral deposits, including some previously unviable. And companies are increasingly willing to invest substantial resources into developing mineral fields. In order for these projects to be viable, they need to be accompanied by major infrastructure constructions, such as roads, railway lines and power stations.

Direct and indirect impacts

However, mining is a threat for forest and freshwater ecosystems, including in protected and high conservation value areas. This is not only because of direct impacts such as deforestation, pollution, and natural resources degradation but also the result of indirect impacts linked to infrastructure development.

Mining-related infrastructure include road (and railway) building to access mine sites and transport minerals and waste materials from the sites. Roads open access to intact and remote areas, which can result in increased poaching and hunting for bushmeat. They also often cut into and fragment natural habitat, constraining wildlife movement and reducing gene flows.

In addition to mining activities, camps set up by miners also produce waste and pollution that can reach and affect the surrounding habitats and/or flow in the waterways and impact areas far beyond the mine sites.

Artisanal mining

Largely unregulated artisanal mining (of gold and diamonds) is an important source of income for many communities in the Congo Basin. However, the invasion of large groups of artisanal miners into, or close to, protected areas is a serious threath to biodiversity in those areas.

Poor law enforcement

While some Congo Basin countries have taken positive measures to conserve their rich biodiversity, this may not be sufficient in light of economic development interests. Failure to enforce legislation and limited monitoring are also weakening conservation efforts. Overlapping and conflicting interest between mining and forestry exploitation and protected areas aggravate the situation. Unfortunately, most of the countries in the region lack the political will or resources to ensure an integrated approach to natural resource management.

In the DRC, mineral extraction has also contributed to violent conflict, fueled by corruption linked to revenues from mineral resources, harmful environmental practices, and neglect of basic human rights.

Absence of international standards

Whilst there are sustainability leaders in the mining sector, there are no internationally accepted best practice standards for mining (yet). It is therefore hard to hold companies accountable for their negative social and environmental impacts.

Participative planning and governance

State of the art technology will not be enough to manage and reduce the impacts of mining. Integrated, participative, planning and governance, taking into account both development and conservation interests are crucial steps to improve the situation.

Read more on solutions here

Download report: Assessment of the Mining Sector and Infrastructure Development in the Congo Basin Region

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