The idea of a “resource curse” in developing nations is painfully present in Sub-Saharan Africa. The idea of a natural resource acting more as a hindrance than help to development in exemplified in some instances of diamond mining in Africa. While the diamonds mined here provide investment and wealth in other countries, they remain one of the most destructive environmental forces in Africa. Since each type of mining comes with its own hazards and impacts, many African nations now suffer from significant losses. As with any non-renewable resource, the search for new sources leads local governments to disregard potential environmental damage. The following seeks to explore the nature of diamond mining in light of environmental degradation.
Prior to Excavation
Mining activities are carried out in various stages, each of them involving specific environmental impacts. Broadly speaking, these stages are: deposit prospecting and exploration, mine development and preparation, and mine exploitation (1). The initial phase that determines if an area is a potential mining site if often not included in the assessment of environmental impacts. During the prospecting phase, the preparation of routes of access, establishment of camps and related facilities,
opening up of trenches and pits, and taking samples all require portions of land to be cleared. As seen in Figure 1, heavy machinery
is brought in early on to determine the value
of a certain area. Though this mostly applies to large, primary site operations, the impact lies
in the fact the previously unaccessible tracts of land are now open to human exploitation. Without the proper infrastructure to support waste management, these areas can quickly become polluted (3).
The general rule of thumb is that open pit mines have a greater environmental impact than hard rock mines. This is because hard rock mines attempt to keep the ground surface intact as excavation takes place underground. Since the mid 1990's, this idea has begun to fade as underground changes are now measured and evaluated (4). Artisanal mining also went unblamed for many years because of the misconception that small-scale mining has little or no effect on local ecology. This is untrue as sediment load in water site builds, limiting the organisms that will survive in such waters (2). Also, the water may no longer be fit for drinking or or agriculture (2).
Most sources concede that mining requires vast amounts of energy. The ore and rock has to be transported great distances by large vehicles, which require a large amount of energy in the form fossil fuels (1). Although much of
the work is manual labor, multinational mining corporations have
introducedlarge-scale machinery to increase production (5).
Underground mines need extensive hoisting systems to transport
the minerals, which also require energy. An important, but highly overlooked issue is the need to control the temperature of mines
deep underground. This energy consuming task is necessary to
ensure worker safety. With the profits of diamond mining often
leaving the country only returning in the hands of a select few,
there is no adequate compensation for fuel pollution Figure 2
shows the initial mining process as gas powered vehicles are
brought to transport material(1).
Mining has a great effect on the quality of the air. Since mines need to blast through rock to get to an ore, dust may be produced in the process (2). Air pollution in the form of this dust generated by mining activities, a serious cause of illnesses, generally in the form of respiratory disease in people and asphyxia of plants and trees (2). Although workers in hard-rock mines in South Africa have reported respiratory problems, many of these effects are felt in areas surrounding open-pit mines. Here wind carries debris far from the source, creating a more widespread problem (1).
Mining activities also may lead to large-scale erosion,
which is dangerous for local population and can reduce
the biodiversity of an area. It destroys river banks, changes how the river flows, where it flows, and what organisms may live within it. Even the slightest change
in water speed alters the sediment load and organismal make up. In addition to the area disturbed by the excavation, the damage caused by mines on the surface due to the consequent erosion and sedimentation of the river and streambeds is made more serious due to
heaps of rock residues lacking economic value (known
as tailings), that usually form great mounds, sometimes larger than the area given over to excavation (3). Such large hills are subject to “sediment slides” and usually cannot support plant life(4). Kono, in the heart of the diamond mining region in Sierra Leone has experienced complete loss of rich agricultural soil and farming fields to mining debris (1).
Water Pollution and Usage
The use and pollution of water is another concern in
Sub-Saharan Africa where usable water can be scarce.
Sulfide-containing minerals, when oxidized through contact with air via mining form sulfuric acid. When combined with trace elements, this negatively
impacts groundwater (5). Another way surface and underground water are affected is through waste rock heaps, because they are a source of acidic drainage water. This happens from both surface and
underground mines and lowers the pH of the groundwater, making it more acidic (5).
Diamond mining uses water, rather than chemicals,
for extraction. Since water is
scarce in many parts of Africa, the enormous consumption of water required by mining activities generally reduces the water table around the site
drying up wells and springs. Ninety years of environmental neglect in Angola have devastated large areas of land, poisoned local water, and forced indigenous populations to relocate (6). The Kono area in Sierra Leon has also suffered, as it is now scarred with thousands of abandoned mining pits filled with mosquito-infested water. Such examples show how the foundations of water management infrastructure are not present in many Sub-Saharan nations (1). As seen in figure 4, alluvial mining procedures limit subsequent water usage.
Mines are highly damaging to the ecosystems surrounding them.
Many different types of mines affect many different types of ecosystems. For example, deep-sea mines are at high risk of eliminating endangered and potentially valuable organisms.
Although pit mines often fill with water, these temporary lakes are often contaminated by chemical pollutants or mosquito larvae (1).
This facilitates the spread of water borne disease. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, diamond mines exist in a wide variety ofecosystems:
the African Savannah (in southern Africa), the Karoo Biome (in South Africa),
the Namib Desert and the Benguela marine ecosystem (in Namibia). The loss of key organisms in these areas could cause entire ecosystems to collapse (6).
1.Abbas, Alex. "Diamonds in Southern Africa." Diamond Mining: Impacts. March 2000.
University of California. 9 Apr 2008 <http://www-geology.ucdavis.edu/>.
2. Cadner, Machael. "Diamond Mines of the World." South Africa. 2007. KHI Inc.. 9 Apr 2008 <http://www.khulsey.com/jewelry/kh_jewelry_info.html>.
3. Campbell, Greg. Blood Diamonds. Boulder: Westview Press, 2002.
4. Campbell, Greg. “Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones. “ Westview Press Group. 2002. <http://lib.colostate.edu/develop/events/2006/toc/campbell.html>
5. Douglas FArah, “Cash Tied to Diamond Trade.” Washington Post, November 2, 2001.
6. "Environmental Impacts." Diamond Mining in Africa. July 2007. Brilliant Earth . 9 Apr 2008 <http://www.brilliantearth.com/diamondmining.aspx#environment>.
1. Miner's Database. Namibian mine excavation. April 8, 2008 <http://minersdatabase.blogfa.com/8512.aspx>
2. Zambian Chronicle. Excavation for Zambian Diamond Mine. April 10, 2008. <http://zambianchronicle.com/category/rio-tinto/>
3. Citation: Klipgat mine construction. April 10, 2008. < www.etruscan.com>
4. Vinod Kuriyan. Artisanal diamond mining. April 9, 2008. <http://solitaireinternational.files.wordpress.com/2007/04/2-diamond-mining-artisanal.jpg>
5. Juicy Geography. Damage from artisanal mining. April 10, 2008. < http://www.juicygeography.co.uk/diamonds.htm>
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