A safe and responsible artisanal mining can be a vector for development and rapid post-Covid-19 economic recovery for millions of men and women.
This was said by National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Nango) Eastern Region Coordinator Joseph Kauzani during an online meeting organised by Green Governance Zimbabwe Trust (GGZT).
The meeting was meant to discuss the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on mining communities.
Zimbabwe's mining sector currently contributes about 8 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and has set a target of generating US$12 billion by 2023 from as little as US$2,7 billion in 2017.
"If well supported now, the artisanal mining sector, it could not only contribute to short term recovery from the impacts of Covid-19, but also function as an important bulwark against illicit trade, poor land management, ecosystem degradation, habitat loss and even wildlife trade, and so prevent disease transmission in addition to countering the effect of climate change," said Kauzani.
He also said there was need to enhance resilience of artisanal small-scale mining communities so that they are better prepared for other potential crises in future.
"There also is need to strengthen local civic society actors and human rights defenders who may be risking their own security to protect artisanal small-scale miners," said Kauzani.
He underscored the need to activate humanitarian and emergency response networks to deliver dignified aid through cash, and food aid and health supplies directly to artisanal mining communities in close collaboration with the local authority.
"There is need for dignified aid through cash assistance through which miners will have the ability to choose and prioritise their household spending.
"Government and private sector actors such as large-scale mining companies should publicly report on their management of Covid-19 including dedicated resources during and after the pandemic," said the regional coordinator.
Kauzani said there was need to formulate a multi stakeholder response approach to ensure that the needs of artisanal small-scale miners and their communities are addressed now and post Covid-19 period for economic recovery and social development.
Despite current high gold prices on international markets, he said, the buying price of gold at many artisanal miners is crashing as a result of Covid-19.
"This trend has also been described by various institutions, which have developed an excellent overview of what Covid-19 could mean to artisanal mining communities, outlining potential impacts on miners' health and incomes, gender dynamics, child labour and mercury use.
"They find that because artisanal mining communities already tend to be marginalised and underserved by governments, they are particularly vulnerable to income shocks already underway as a result of Covid-19," said Kauzani.
He added that miners are chronically exposed to dust and mercury vapor, potentially making them more vulnerable to the effects of respiratory infection like Covid-19.
"Their communities often lack adequate sanitation and health services, and hospitals may be very far away," said Kauzani.
He also noted that the prized nurture of these high value minerals, particularly gold means women and men working in the artisanal mining sector are often at risk of being preyed upon by illicit traders.
"They rarely receive a decent prize for their ore or labour and are often pushed into the sector by poverty and economic hardships. In conflict affected and high risk environments they can also be targets of abuse by armed groups, public and private security forces," said Kauzani.