Life might not be the same for families whose relatives are among the 8 miners trapped for over a month now, in Burkina Faso’s sole zinc mine. The miners who are stranded more than 700m underground following flash floods at the mine, are betting on the government’s response to rescue them. And although officials say the rescuers are nearing the surface rooms, the hope to find the miners alive are nearing to none.  Incidents like these are becoming many across the continent.

Several kilometers from Ouagadougou in Matabeleland South in Zimbabwe, a mine accident cost the lives of 7 people, who plunged down a 200-meter shaft after a rope from a winch snapped. These cases are far too many and seriously depressing. And as I write this piece I am lost in thought on what could have gone wrong beyond the accidents. 

Reality is that mining ranks among the most hazardous industries in the world today according to International Labor Organization (ILO). A major factor threatening the sustainability of this industry is mining accidents, which frequently result in injuries or deaths, destruction of property, and pollution of the environment. In the past, mining accidents have led to the shutdown and threat of shutdown of mines and mine operations.

The mining industry is without a doubt a very important sector for many African economies. It is in fact a major source of foreign direct investment. In South Africa, the mining sec contributes more than $18.8BN to GDP and directly employs more than 450,000 people making it an economic anchor of many communities around the country. And whereas, these foreign investments birth large scale mining companies that set up shop in Africa to help in the exploration and exploitation of the minerals, the unprecedented accidents are not spared.  

“Mine accidents happen all over the world not only in Africa, we just need to make sure that the safety norms of international standards are respected for both foreign and national companies,” says Cedric Yombo, a mining consultant based in DRC

Artisanal and small scale mining employs close to 13 million people in 80 countries worldwide according to a report by Intergovernmental forum on mining, minerals, metals and sustainable development. According to the same report small scale mining, is an important source of revenue for people living in rural areas, where it is largely carried out as an informal and often illegal activity since it is not regulated by governments in about 23 Sub-Saharan African countries.

Despite the nature of work, artisanal miners supply a wide variety of minerals that are critical to modern communication technologies, low-carbon and clean energy technologies, as well as luxury jewelry goods. Take for example in Congo, where cobalt mining produces more than 70% of the world’s cobalt. A very important mineral needed globally. 

But many of these mines also continue to experience mining accidents which leave so many questions unanswered yet its benefits often outweigh the costs. Early in the year Burkina Faso ‘s  small scale gold mine in Gbomblora experienced  an explosion that left 63 dead and scores injured according to reports from the government. Leaving many unanswered questions when it comes to safety of miners. 

Mining safety has become a global concern over the last decade and has attracted significant international attention. A recent report by World Bank on the state of artisanal and small scale mining found that informality of the sector is an ongoing problem that affects around 90 percent of ASM activity that in turn leaves artisanal workforces around the globe exposed to dangerous working conditions.

And even though, human error has been blamed for the majority of these accidents other factors have also contributed to the never ending disasters. 

“A lack of adequate physical, financial resources and limited access to necessary information surrounding mine safety for the miners is also a big problem for miners. Many miners have little to no knowledge on what to do if disaster struck. Resources to deal with these disasters are also very limited,” a mining expert in Bamako, Mali.

In my conversation with Drame I ask him why it takes days and even weeks to rescue miners in collapsed mines. He says “complexities in rescue operations are real and are due to the lack of adequate and adapted prevention measures, but also to a lack of competent personnel in the rescue teams, adding that lack of commitment from the authorities in the mines and the governments always causes so much harm to the lives of miners already at risk.”

According to ILO’s report on mining; a hazardous work, many of the jobs in the mines in Africa are far from conforming to international and national labor standards and regulation by the governments and stakeholders on board would reduce the number of mining accidents currently being experienced. 

“Regulation of the mining sector would be a good thing to reduce the risks and the losses of goods and human life if its application was well understood by the participants on the production chain,” reiterates Allasane

The importance of improving mining disaster preparedness can never be understated.  As I write this article in my home corner office after the enlightening conversation with Alhassane and Yombo, I can see it is all important to engage all concerned partners from governments, workers and employers, specialists and experts in the issues of mine safety.

“The risk of loss of lives and properties are always going to happen, but strong regulations, proper training and also access to funding can be a solution to reduce those risks. In DRC we are opening trade center for artisanal miners and small scales mining to be able to trade their minerals in a free and fair market while respecting all the rules and regulations of safety,” says Cedric 

For a continent that is home to about 30 percent of the world’s mineral reserves, 12 percent of the world’s oil and 8 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves according to statistics for United Nations, safety of miners is key to sustainable development.

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