Ebola and Mining in Sierra Leone

by Vins

Over the past months, the Ebola virus has taken a toll on Sierra Leone’s economy, which is heavily dependent on its mining industry. Because Ebola has wiped out so much of Sierra Leone’s population, it lost a huge amount of workers and the country’s output has significantly decreased. Another contributing factor is the slowing economy of China, Sierra Leone’s largest iron buyer. The most efficient way to alleviate this problem is to diversify the economy, according to John Bonoh Sisay, the CEO of Sierra Rutile, a mineral sands company in Sierra Leone. Sisay says that agricultural diversity would be an achievable goal, because the country has plenty of resources and agricultural workers can be hired quickly because the jobs require little skill.

Although this potential solution might provide a quick fix, there are deeper societal and corporate issues that could be sources of Sierra Leone’s economic slump, as Clár Ní Chonghaile reports in the Guardian. A study done by the Institute of Development Studies revealed one possible link between the mining industry and the country’s social susceptibility to the Ebola virus. The report notes, “Large-scale mining creates social and ecological disruptions that could encourage the emergence and spread of disease.”

Another important finding was the lack of honest communication on the part of the mining companies to local communities about the advantages of mining initiatives. This raises an important question regarding the corporate responsibility of the mining companies, which should give more attention to social issues, especially around public health. As Jeremy Allouche, one of the report’s authors noted, ““There have been so many promises … that probably the local populations are losing some form of patience or confidence in the benefits of these.”

Another issue is the lack of transparency of policy decisions that affect employees and the local population alike. Sierra Leone is a developing country, so its industries often have problems getting investment because there is so little to be shown for potential revenue. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is solving this problem by helping corporations have effective management and be more transparent about policy and revenue.

Very few corporate newspapers have covered this topic. The coverage is centered on the tragic effects of the Ebola virus upon individuals but does not focus on the economic repercussions of the disease. It is important to spread awareness about the institutional changes that can be made to promote transparency, because they have the potential not only to benefit Sierra Leone’s economy, but also to address some of the nation’s broader social issues.

Source:

Clár Ní Chonghaile, “Ebola crisis could force Sierra Leone to diversify away from mining,” The Guardian, March 10, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/mar/10/ebola-crisis-sierra-leone-diversify-mining-economy.

Student Researcher: Lydia Saylor (Pomona College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)