A firsthand look at the Ebola crisis and the diamond industry

Rob Bates

The Ebola outbreak is grabbing all the headlines, yet most of us don’t think about whether it affects our industry. But it does West Africa is a significant source of diamonds, and the artisanal miners in the affected countries produce (depending on the estimates) about 1 percent of the world’s diamonds by value. That is, perhaps, not statistically significant, but it’s still a good deal of diamonds—and diamond mining in West Africa involves a good deal of people.

Babar Turay is an experienced ecologist who has worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development and Estelle Levin Ltd., with a focus on gold and diamond mining in Sierra Leone. A Sierra Leone native currently living in the diamond district of Kono, Turay has written about his personal experiences in a series of blog posts for Estelle Levin Ltd., and he agreed to answer questions from JCK about the disease and how it’s affected the diamond sector in Sierra Leone.

JCK: How has Ebola affected diamond mining in Sierra Leone?

Babar Turay: Since mining — especially of diamonds is only second to agriculture in terms of the [country’s workforce], and the highest income earner in especially the district of Kono, it has been the worst affected sector during the Ebola crisis…. Investors who are key to the effective running of the industry in terms of cash flow have all been scared away by the outbreak.

Diamond mining in Sierra Leone largely depends on the partnership along a chain that has established trust (diggers, landowners, buyers/dealers, etc.). The interdependence of these business partners is so important that any break in the chain causes significant impact on the whole sector.

Has production decreased?

Absolutely, production especially in the artisanal sector has dropped considerably because the intensity of mining itself dropped… The quantities [produced now] are not worth the risk for an investor to move from Europe or the Middle East into an Ebola-infested zone.

Is any mining continuing?

Mining has been reduced in terms of scale but hasn’t stopped. As it continued at the height of the civil war, I am not surprised. The key difference now, though, is that it is done only for survival and not on any commercially viable scale.

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Source JCK Online