Focusing on Communities During the Covid-19 Pandemic
Navigating the challenges of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and keeping diamond mining communities safe has called for new ways of thinking, fresh collaborations, and an even more nuanced look at what neighborhoods need to thrive.
Members of the Natural Diamond Council have balanced financial pledges with grassroots community support projects, tapping into existing social projects and networks to shift focus onto the fight against Covid-19.
From the moment Covid-19 showed signs of being a pandemic, diamond mining businesses focused their attention on strengthening and supporting community healthcare projects. De Beers Group and its joint venture partners have contributed over $10 million through community response efforts to date, with a key focus on sourcing and donating highly sought-after PCR testing machines; providing a substantial boost to testing capabilities within its producer countries in southern Africa.
De Beers has also been supporting healthcare authorities to minimize the spread of the disease, including distributing 250,000 face masks to local communities in Botswana created by local small and medium sized enterprises; supporting the installation of 20,000 Tippy-taps handwashing stations in Namibia; providing Personal Protective Equipment to care homes in Canada; and securing accommodation for medical staff in London.
Similarly, Petra has supplied PPE, equipment, thermal scanners and sanitizers to local clinics and members of its diamond mining communities. It has partnered with a small local business to make protective masks, thereby stimulating local economic development at a time when lockdowns are impacting economic activity at all levels. Petra Diamond’s Cullinan mine is working with the Guateng Province Department of Health to protect local communities and has donated two refurbished shipping containers as testing, screening and storage facilities. The company’s Finsch mine clinic also remains open to local community members and can see in the region of 50 people per day.
Supporting those already doing great work in the community has also been an important facet of the fight against Covid-19. Murowa Diamonds has donated US $40,000 to help the Zvishavane district Covid-19 Taskforce continue its vital work in Zimbabwe, while also pledging to renovate the Lundi Rural Hospital that is currently serving as an isolation center. In addition, since the outbreak of the pandemic, Murowa Diamonds has secured one million listeners for its Covid-19 radio advice program and has ensured all five clinics within its mine’s footprint are equipped with basic screening materials and personal protective equipment.
Covid-19 hasn’t just impacted society, but individual households. A global surge in gender-based violence has been reported since the pandemic began, exacerbated by the closure of local support services and refuges. Aligned with its commitment to standing with women and girls, De Beers Group has pledged to tackle this rise in domestic violence with a US $200,000 donation to support services in its partner countries, as well as providing sanitation supplies for vulnerable women.
In Botswana, Lucara has pledged 500,000 Pula (approx. US $43,000) to shelters in Letlhakane and Gaborone that protect those suffering from gender-based violence. This is in addition to 300,000 Pula (approx. US $26,000) to provide personal protective equipment and isolation pods to local communities and clinics, as well as a cash pledge of 3 million Pula (approx. US $257,000) to the Government of Botswana and its ongoing Covid-19 donations fund.
Elsewhere, in South Africa, employees at Petra Diamonds’ Finsch mine have been wearing black every Friday as part of an awareness campaign against gender violence. The mine also assisted the local police force with the upgrade of their Victim Friendly Room, providing a safe space for victims of domestic violence.
By carefully considering what communities really need during this uncertain time, many diamond mining companies have sought to secure and safeguard food sources and suppliers, not only for their workers, but for their families and wider communities. Rio Tinto, for example, has pledged to provide accommodation and food for individuals who are at high medical risk of serious illness or death if they contract the virus. To do this, it has partnered with the Yellowknife Women’s Society in the Northwest Territories of Canada to support its Covid-19 isolation shelter with a C$150,000 contribution. Now, the shelter has funding in place for 25 individuals during the pandemic and can revert to its original purpose as supportive housing once the pandemic subsides.
Delving deeper, Rio Tinto has pledged $10 million in support of its community partners and Covid-19 initiatives in Canada and the United States. This includes collaborating with Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN), Food Rescue, YWCA NWT and the YK Food Bank and contributing over C$20,000 to various food security initiatives in Canada’s Northwest Territories. And far from being its only contribution, Rio Tinto has implemented a range of provisions, from manufacturing hand sanitizer and creating temporary medical units in remote mining communities, to implementing a flexible on-call service allowing employees to return home to support their families. The company’s estimated voluntary global contributions are expected reach $60 million in 2020 alone.
Petra Diamonds also played an important role in distributing 5,000 food parcels and blankets at the start of the pandemic when cold winter conditions were affecting communities in South Africa. It achieved this through its Petra Hardship Fund (PHF) – a financial commitment raised through salary sacrifices by company management and designed to provide targeted assistance to vulnerable community members.
De Beers Group has worked with local partners to distribute food and water across all its partner countries feeding 1,100 artisanal miners in Sierra Leone; delivering 1,000 cases of drinking water and food parcels to First Nation communities in Canada; providing 2,000 monthly food parcels in Namibia; and ensuring clean water access for 10,000 South Africans.
Let’s not forget Lucara, which distributed 3,700 hampers of food and hygiene supplies to elderly, sick and vulnerable residents in Botswana.
As we begin to discover a ‘new normal’ across the globe, long-term social distancing, remote working and ensuring educational consistency for young people have become priorities for Natural Diamond Council members. Rio Tinto has partnered with the Northwest Territories (NWT) Literacy Council to develop literacy materials for families with young children, young adults aged between 16-29 and newcomers to Canada who reside in Yellowknife. By doubling its scholarship fund for post-secondary students and redesigning its Future Minds Accelerator to run remotely and support new start-ups dedicated to school-age students, Rio Tinto is demonstrating a commitment to the learning potential of those within its mining communities, both now and in the future.
De Beers Group has also provided funds for more computers and online learning programs in Canada, while Petra Diamonds has supplied personal protective equipment to local schools to support the return of teachers and students in its communities
Sadly, this pandemic shows no signs of disappearing from the global landscape, so countries, towns and communities are focusing on test and trace measures to slow the spread and contain the virus.
Rio Tinto introduced Covid-19 testing at its Diavik diamond mine in Northwest Territories, Canada, at the start of the pandemic, working with not-for-profit public health experts GuardRX to install an on-site laboratory. By July, nearly 2,600 tests for Covid-19 were completed with no cases detected in the workforce. Its efforts were also channeled to the nearby Gahcho Kué and Snap Lake mines, with more than 850 additional tests conducted to date.
Similarly, De Beers Group has sourced 10 COVID-19 testing machines for its sites and mine hospitals, as well as for government and private laboratories across Botswana, Namibia and South Africa to support national testing. Meanwhile Lucara has donated funds to support testing and a new quarantine facility in the Boteti region of Botswana.
At Petra Diamonds’ Finsch Diamond Mine, an on-going wellness campaign to make flu vaccines available to employees and contract employees has been taken up a notch, with Petra extending the campaign to vulnerable people across the town of Lime Acres. Alrosa also started its flu vaccination drive in September, with the goal of helping tens of thousands of its employees across Yakutia. The hope is that these efforts will reduce the likelihood of flu and Covid-19 overlapping during the winter months; ensuring resources aren’t overstretched and at-risk groups are protected as much as possible.
Members of the Natural Diamond Council are committed to protecting diamond mining communities and fostering a spirit of togetherness during this unique period in history.