Artisanal Diamond Mining in Sierra Leone: Social Impacts, Environmental Awareness, and Opportunities for Change

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More than a decade after a violent, diamond-fueled civil war, Sierra Leone ranks 183 out of 187 countries on the 2014 UNDP Human Development Index; and UNEP warns that their lack of appropriate natural resource-linked governance creates significant risks for instability or conflict. As artisanal diamond mining (ADM) is widespread, affecting nearly 8% of the population, and lucrative, accounting for nearly 38% of diamond exports, it could be a critical driver of prosperity. People in the diamond-mining region are seeking opportunities to improve their economic, social, and environmental wellbeing, and positive repercussions could reach far beyond the rural boundaries of their villages. Unfortunately, typical ADM techniques are dangerous, often illicit, and cause deforestation and biodiversity loss. Open, abandoned mining pits span the landscape leaving depleted soil and unproductive land. There is an interconnected cycle in Sierra Leone whereby poverty largely drives people to artisanal mining, which leads to significant environmental degradation, which reduces livelihood opportunities thus exacerbating poverty. In Sierra Leone, poverty and desperation in the context of corrupt leadership led to a struggle for power and violent conflict; and artisanally mined diamonds – small, valuable, hard to trace – became the illicit currency of the conflict. This cycle is not inevitable, but the conditions create a risky, vulnerable, and urgent positive feedback loop. Through in-depth interviews in Kono District, Sierra Leone in 2012, this report seeks to understand current environmental awareness, practices, and attitudes of affected populations. Such insights help to identify ideas, interest, and current capacity for small changes at the artisanal mine level to improve the social, economic, and environmental wellbeing of diamond miners and their communities. Analysis reveals seven findings and three critical takeaways: 1) work directly with supporters, 2) employ simple operations interventions, and 3) focus on land rehabilitation from the outset. These efforts can be quickly implemented and scaled in a decentralized manner. As many miners feel a lack of control over their situation, such localized efforts could complement national and international initiatives for development in Sierra Leone.





Lichte, Rachel (2014). Artisanal Diamond Mining in Sierra Leone: Social Impacts, Environmental Awareness, and Opportunities for Change. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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