Learning Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Artisanal Gold Miners in Eastern DRC

USAID’s Commercially Viable Conflict-Free Gold Project, known locally as “Zahabu Safi” is a five-year program, implemented in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by Global Communities and Levin Sources. The project is designed to build on recent successes achieved by donor-funded initiatives to export responsibly-produced gold to jewelry buyers in North America and Europe.

Zahabu Safi participated in and co-financed a data collection exercise on the impact of COVID-19 on ASM communities in eastern DRC as part of worldwide initiative lead by Delve. Delve is a global online data platform on ASM, funded by the World Bank. Delve launched a global data gathering exercise in May to monitor and record specific COVID-19 impacts on the artisanal and small-scale mining sector. It aimed to provide regular snapshots on specific ASM geographies on the impacts of COVID-19 on: (i) markets & supply chains; (ii) health and safety; (iii) food security; (iv) government engagement & service delivery; (v) human security (in select geographies); and (vi) gender. Information and data captured are featured on the Delve website. It is envisioned that this data will be used to inform medium to long-term responses to ASM following COVID-19.

The data collection provided insights across the six thematic areas providing an initial picture of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted ASM communities in those provinces. Interviews with miners and key stakeholders present a mixed picture. The pandemic has resulted in ASM communities facing challenges in accessing basic needs such as food supplies, and has also highlighted the limited support services being provided and  lack of suitable measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the ASM sector. Key findings summarized in this briefing include:
Access to food became increasingly challenging for families in ASM communities. Food insecurity increased especially for those depending on imported goods.

COVID-19 appears to have had limited impact with respect to gender dynamics and security in ASM communities and around mine sites.

The ASM gold supply chain has been disrupted by a number of factors including a decrease in the local price despite an international increase in the gold price, closure of borders limiting access to equipment and actual gold trade, overall reduced access to financing and inputs for gold production.

Despite the supply chain disruptions, the illegal gold trade has continued as illicit traders were able to keep smuggling gold using other essential good trucks.

Some awareness-raising communication has taken place, however practical assistance and the governmental response in ASM communities were limited.

While preventive measures have been suggested and communicated in ASM communities, many of these have proven to be impractical and unfeasible for the ASM sector, leaving miners and other stakeholders with limited opportunities to take preventative steps.

Respondents suggested trust in the government response and reporting around the COVID-19 pandemic was limited.