Sierra Leone Mining and Environment (LEONE Case)


            CASE NUMBER:              195 
            CASE MNEMONIC:          SIERRA 
            CASE NAME:              Sierra Leone Mining

A.    IDENTIFICATION

1.    The Issue

      There is enormous pressure to mine Sierra Leonežs natural
resources.  The activities of Sierra Leone's two large-scale mining
companies result in land degradation through loss of vegetative
cover, soil erosion, and contamination of water sources. Small-
scale mining of diamonds and gold raises similar issues on a
different scale.  Artisanal mining results in deforestation and
land degradation; and stagnant water collects in excavated areas
which are abandoned by the miners, providing breeding ground for
mosquitoes.  Frequently, there are clashes between the farming
communities and the mobile artisanal miners who are creating health
hazardous conditions for the resident farmers.  To examine this
issue more closely, we will focus on small-scale mining and its
environmental impact on the communities affected by mining
activities.

2.    Description

      Sierra Leone is endowed with abundant rainfall, substantial
mineral resources, some fertile soils, and extensive marine
fisheries.  This development has not been effectively managed, and
Sierra Leone is classified as one of the poorest and least
developed countries in the world.  Continued poor economic
performance is largely due to the war in Sierra Leone. Rebels
(Revolutionary United Front) have been attacking the government
since 1991.  Economic costs include disruption of mining and
agriculture by the fighting and also the financial burden placed on
the government by the war effort. Sierra Leone imports 70% of its
requirements and suffers from extreme shortages of foreign
currency. The war consumes as much as 75% of the government's
financial and material resources. 

      Sierra Leone has a population of 4.2 million (1991) growing at
a rate of about 2.6 percent per annum. Over two-thirds of the
population live in absolute poverty. Rural life, with the exception
of the diamond and gold mining areas, is generally at a subsistence
level. Life expectancy is very low, estimated at 42 years; and
infant mortality is among the highest in the world. Primary school
enrollment is among the lowest in Africa.

      Trade and the Environment

      The mining sector officially accounts for over 90 percent of
the country's export earnings. It has lost some of its apparent
strength, as its share of GDP has dropped from 16 percent in the
early 1970s to 10 percent. This decline, however, reflects
significant increases in unaccounted trade, as well as the
depletion of deposits. The failure to combat illicit mining and
widespread smuggling of gold and diamonds has significantly reduced
public revenues. 

      Prior to 1956, small-scale diamond mining was illegal. With
the introduction of the Alluvial Diamond Mining Scheme, small-scale
production of diamonds was licensed. Illicit production has,
however, persisted despite efforts to enforce the law. The method
of production for small-scale mining ranges from very basic
artisanal methods of digging earth and washing and sifting to the
use of more capital intensive equipment, including water pumps and
excavators. The most common method is the highly labor intensive
process where large groups of people dig the earth and wash and
sift the ore for diamonds.

      The environmental impact of small-scale diamond mining
activities is severe, devastating the land by clearing and digging
up vegetated areas. After an area is mined the land is left exposed
and degraded, unsuitable for farming or any other activity. When
the mining is carried out on hilly areas and slopes, severe erosion
takes place and flooding can result. In certain locations miners
not only remove vegetation and economically valuable trees but
their activities also divert surface drainage. Siltation in river
systems is a common problem to be faced by communities living
downstream. Water collects and stagnates in the dug-out areas
contributing to health hazards, potentially increasing the
incidence of malaria and other water borne diseases.

      Mining activities expose communities to a wide range of
diseases. Heavy rains cause dug-out areas to be transformed to
stagnant ponds which are breeding grounds for mosquitoes,
exacerbating the problem of Malaria.  Communities interacting with
water sources contaminated by mine wastes are exposed to diarrheal
diseases.  Mining activities cause heavy siltation in river beds
and creeks, which reduces coastal coral and fish populations that
feed and breed in it.  Toxic wastes in the water sources
contaminate marine life making them unfit for human consumption.

      "A study carried out in southwestern Sierra Leone (Gbakima)
indicates the prevalence of schistosomiasis and other parasitic
diseases. Urine and fetal samples from mine workers and their
dependents from selected residential diamond mine camps in Bo Town
and Tongo Field revealed that there was widespread infection in the
community. The study concluded that abandoned diamond workings
provide a habitat suitable for Biomphalaria pfeiffer, the snail
vector for the disease, S. Mansoni. Biomphalaria pfeiffer has been
found in large numbers in most streams and ponds in southwestern
Sierra Leone, particularly in the Tongo area and the number of
incidences of S. Mansoni in the Tongo Field hospital are reported
to have increased dramatically. The study further concludes that
diamond mining on a large scale and swamp rice farming can
eventually contribute to a prevalence of schistosomiases, a major
parasitic disease, which can be fatal to young children."
      Unfortunately there is little other details available on the
direct health hazards imposed on the local communities. In order to
provide a better understanding of the impact of the current mining
activities, environmental impact assessments need to be undertaken
for large- and small-scale mining activities to evaluate the
relative environmental costs, including off-site costs like
downstream siltation. In the case of small-scale mining activities,
an assessment is needed of the environmental impact, including:
vegetation; degradation of forest and land; water supplies
(contamination as well as availability); siltation of rivers and
creeks; and social and economic costs associated with the movement
of communities due to destruction of cultivable land.
      
3.    Related Cases

      BOLIVIA
      BRAGOLD
      VENGOLD
      YELLOW

      Key Words:
      (1): Domain                          = AFRica
      (2): Bio-geography                   = TROPical
      (3): Environmental Problem           = POLL

4.    Draft Author: Sarah Sipkins

B.    LEGAL FILTERS

5.    Discourse and Status:  ALLREGE and INPROGress

      The general discourse of this case involves the following
parties;
      1)  The government of Sierra Leone who would like to
      continue seeing the mining and exportation of diamonds
      and gold. On the other hand they have not developed any
      policies to address environmental degradation and cannot
      afford to invest any revenue into environmental
      conservation or education. It is up to the government to
      develop comprehensive guidelines for mining activities
      taking into consideration environmental protection, and
      the health and safety of the populace;
      2)  Mining companies whose activities are adversely
      affecting the communities in which they are excavating
      and digging for diamonds. Usually these companies are
      mobile, especially the artisan miners and have no ties to
      the local community. Their operations result in
      degradation of the vast expanse of land exploited, risk
      of flooding of surrounding village from dredging ponds,
      siltation in tidal creeks, and dislocation of several
      villages;
      3)  Relocated villages and communities who have been
      displaced in an effort to move them away from unsafe and
      unhealthy mining areas.  Some villagers, including the
      elders, are expressing dissatisfaction at the
      displacement, complaining that they are unable to pursue
      agricultural activities in their new locations. The
      communities are not consulted from the onset or in the
      resettlement process;
      4)  Environmentalists or Health organizations who would
      like to see the government take a more active role in
      protecting the environment and enforcing such legislation
      and law;
      5)  International Organizations who would like to see the
      development of the mining sector accompanied by
      environmental policy. They are also available upon the
      government's request to provide donor assistance and
      technical expertise for the formulation of regulations
      and standards in this field. The status of this case is
      rather developed in the sense that all parties are aware
      of the problems associated to mining. No longer in a
      primary stage, all parties, aware of environmental
      considerations, are faced with implementing remedies or
      means of alleviation of the environmental problems. 
      
6.    Forum and Scope:  Sierra LEONE ands UNILATeral

      Sierra Leone is laden with economic difficulties and the
government although willing to address the issue, needs to develop
a more comprehensive set of guidelines for mining. Enforcement of
mining agreements with large-scale operators is necessary as well
as an effort on the part of the government to crack down on small-
scale miners. Any laws or environmental policies will have to come
from Government initiative. In the case of small-scale mining
activities, lack of incentives for miners to address land
reclamation is a major issue. In the case of large-scale mining
activities, the government needs to become more actively involved
in developing and monitoring programs to mitigate environmental
impact on the physical landscape and the people living in the area.

7.    Decision Breadth: 1
      
      Sierra Leone is the only country involved, however,
environmental protection may come through support of international
organizations, UN, WHO, World Bank, NGOs.  Possibly indirectly
Sierra Leone's trading partners who import diamonds are involved.

8.    Legal Standing Law

      There is considerable awareness within the government of the
need for environmental protection. A National Policy on Environment
has been formulated and is currently awaiting formal Government
approval. The Government's report on the environment and
development, submitted to UNCED last year, sets forth the goal of
the Government with regard to the mining sector as: "ensuring that
prospecting, exploration, mining and processing of mineral
resources proceed in an environmentally sound manner."

      The new Mining Code currently being formulated contains some
provisions for the protection of the environment. The code includes
requiring environmental assessments prior to application of a
mining license, and requiring appropriate steps to mitigate damages
caused by mining activities, including land reclamation, and
revegetation. However, this requirement would only apply to medium
and to large-scale operations. 

      A recent review of the draft legislation pointed out the lack
of clarity and broad  approach to some of the provisions. Instead
of containing general provisions requiring compliance of
environmental regulations and standards, the review noted that the
draft legislation only describes environmental controls. One option
is to consider neighboring countries' policies and duplicate
regulations and guidelines that have been taken relating to mining
activities and the environment.
      
C.  GEOGRAPHIC FILTERS

9.    Geographic Locations

      a. Geographic domain:         AFRICA
      b. Geographic site:           West Africa [WAFR]
      c. Geographic impact:         Sierra LEONE

10.   Sub-National Factors: NO

11.   Type of Habitat: TROPical

D.    TRADE FILTERS

12.   Type of Measure:  Export ban [EXBAN]

      At present there is a lack of capacity on the part of the
Government to intervene in some areas of environmental concern.
The Goverment has recently entered into new agreements with
large-scale mining companies requiring them to develop
comprehensive environmental action plans for mitigation of
environmental degradation. Unfortunately, while showing a high
level of commitment, these agreements lack in depth. Additionally,
in respect to the small-scale mining activities, the system of fees in
the artisanal mining do not take into account the extensive and
severe land degradation of the mined areas. Eventually, health risks
to the Sierra Leone populace may spark the Government to increase
and develop regulatory standards and even enact an export ban of
illegally mined diamonds and gold, and those mined without
environmental repairs.

13.   Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: INDirect

14.   Relation of Trade Measure to Resource Impact

      Directly Related:       Yes MINE
      Indirectly Related:     No
      Not related:            No
      Process:                Yes POllution Land [POLL]

15.   Trade Product Identification: DIAMOND

      The product type is raw but also intermediate in that the
element itself is tradable and valuable upon finding but also is
refined into a final product for further sale as marketable diamonds.

16.   Economic Data

      Sierra Leone is racked with a weak economy. In the 1980žs the
economic situation deteriorated.  As a result of an overvalued
exchange rate, diamond and gold were increasingly traded in
unofficial markets, and by the mid-1980žs official foreign exchange
reserves were exhausted.  As stated previously the mining sector
officially accounts for over 90 percent of the countryžs export
earnings.  Considering that Sierra Leonežs economy may soon
collapse, the pressure to maintain diamond and gold exports continues.
In this sense, the government must balance domestic, social and health
issues against international economic trade issues.

17.   Impact of Trade Restriction: LOW

      Any decision to restrict the exportation of Sierra Leone mined
diamonds and gold would directly affect it trade balance as they represent
approximately 90 percent of all of its trade. This would most likely result in
a current account deficit.
      
18.   Industry Sector: MINE

19.   Exporters and Importers: Sierra LEONE and MANY

E.    ENVIRONMENT FILTERS

20.   Environmental Problem Type: Pollution Land [POLL]

      The problem reflects the possible detrimental effects to humans in the
area exposed to malaria through mosquito breeding taking place in rain
filled former mining holes.  Land degradation is the immediate and high
priority concern.  Soil erosion is evident, devastating the landscape due to
constant clearing and digging of the land.  This land becomes unsuitable
for farming and overexposed.  Land pollution takes the form of water
contamination, degradation of forest and land, and siltation of rivers and
creeks.

21.   Number of Species

      The primary species affected by mining in Sierra Leone is the native
humans residing in the communities near mining operations. They face
environmental conditions that are unsuitable for living, including
disturbing the natural consumption of water, and being unnecessarily
exposed to malaria.     

22.   Resource Impact: MEDium

      The pressure on natural resources, although categorically rated
"medium/high", will be exacerbated by continued mining and a lack of
policy initiatives to combat the growing problem of unkempt and
environmentally hazardous mining areas. The direct impact is real and
constant and thus a threat to the maintenance of scarce resources and
existing community areas.  This requires a need for regulatory and
legislative action on the part of the Government to address the issue before
it becomes one of severity.

23.   Urgency of Problem: MEDium

24.   Substitutes: RECYCling

F.  OTHER FACTORS

25.   Culture: YES

      Many environmental issues stem from a lack of cultural tradition
pertaining to land ownership and resource management. The lack of a land-
holding tradition leads to short-sighted behavior resulting in degradation
of land. Land is not regarded as a long-term asset that belongs to people
to manage or mismanage. They are therefore not likely to worry about
future problems with their own land, arising out of current mismanagement.
This applies particularly to the mobile artisan miners. Soil erosion is often
the result. Lack of education also plays a role in the increase of malaria
exposure due to environmental degradation of old mines. Even though local
rural farmers may have a greater sense of land ownership, the war
destabilizes any permanent settling on their part. Poverty and war clearly
limit the ability of the Sierra Leone officials to address the environmental
impact of mining as necessary.
      
26.   Human Rights: NO

27.   Trans-Boundary Issues: NO
      
28.   Relevant Literature

Amin, Nick, "Fresh Start for Sierra Leone's Diamonds," African
Business,No.117:46-47, May 1988.

"Boosting commerce." West Africa, No. 3614:2563, 2565-66, December 8,1986.

Cole, Bernadette, "Sierra Leone: New Mining Policy," West Africa, No.
3729:p.186. February 6-12, 1989.

Economic Intelligence Unit, Sao Tome, Senegal, Sierra Leone,1994, p.4.

Kumar, Raj and Walrond, Grantly, "Capital Allowance Schemes for Mining
Projects in LDCs. Resources Policy 9,:155-68, September 1983.

President's Report, "Macroeconomic Analysis,Structural Adjustment
Credit Project in Sierra Leone" World Bank, September, 1993. p.1.
      
Sesay, William,"Diamond, Iron Firms May Close Down," African
Business,No. 105:p.64, May 1987.

"Sierra Leone, Initial Assessment of Environmental Problems," The World
Bank, February 7,1994.p.3.
      
Smith, Michael, "An Economic Disaster," West Africa, No. 4034:p.140,
January 30 -February 5, 1995.

Smith, Michael,"Mining With Care," West Africa, No.4027: p. 2071,
December 5-11,1994.

Zack-Williams, Babatunde, "Diamond mining and underdevelopement in
Sierra Leone," 1930/1980. Afrique et Developpement = Africa Development
15,No.2: 95-117, 1990.
            


Back to previous menu
Go to SUPER Page December 21, 1995