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Impacts of COVID-19 in the Hivos Child-Labor Project in the sub-counties of Sikuda and Buteba, Busia District

Submitted by Environmental Women in Action for Development (EWAD)

Status Updates from the community as of 24th May 2020.

By Margaret Tuhumwire and Richard Kidega

Background

COVID-19 pandemic has caused many socio-economic impacts and interfered with successful project implementation. To understand the impacts of COVID-19 on the Stopping-Child-Labor Project in the mining communities in Sikuda and Buteba, Busia district, EWAD conducts a regular situation analysis. EWAD uses the established local community volunteers (4 teachers and 12 mobilizers), and this exercise was conducted with the help of 12 community mobilizers to provide a representation of the situation in the community in relation to Stop-Child- Labor Project. This study provides an insight to the various ways COVID-19 is affecting the community including children, families, miners and other community stake-holders in stopping child labor.

Impacts of COVID-19 on the community-Child-labor

This situation assessment points out the current status of the main source of livelihood, community resilience toward stopping child labor, behavioral change due to previous trainings by EWAD, the state of mining and lessons learnt from the pandemic.

The various restrictions and guidelines implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19 virus have affected the various sources of livelihood of the community members. The main source of livelihood currently is agricultural farming since mines are greatly affected by the various restrictions and weather conditions. Most pits are flooded due to the heavy rainfall, and this has rendered the pits unproductive, sequentially affecting the gold supply chain, and thus limiting mining as a source of livelihood in the community. The ‘local gold market’ has also been affected due to travel restrictions and the gold price has greatly been depressed. According to representative of one ASMO, the gold amount valued previously at Uganda Shillings 130,000 per one gram (~$34 USD), it now costs around Shillings 80,000 or 70,000 per gram (~$21-18 USD) [local gold prices continues to change] since there is limited access to market, in addition very low production.

Busia and Sikuda and Buteba subcounties in particular, there is an increase in the prevalence of domestic violence being attributed to financial instabilities and families staying together at all times due to restrictions of movements for both parents and children. Schools have also been closed since March 2020.

Due to financial constraints, parents are not able to provide basic needs, which sometimes results into family disagreements. In addition, due to the schools closure, restrictions on both movements and public gatherings, all the family members have to stay at home together most of the time, an issue that has both good and bad effects. Some parents are taking it as an opportunity to spend quality time with their families and to bond with their children, while for others it is promoting domestic violence. However, domestic violence is commonly found where people consume excess alcohol yet do not have enough food to share with their families. It has been noted by civil society organisations that cases of domestic violence during this season rose to 3,000 in Uganda, including deaths. This has more effects in weakening community resilience to fight child labor because family quarrels has negative impacts and distracts behavioral change for the children.

The community members are currently more concerned about survival and EWAD is helping them with words of hope for a better tomorrow. They are being sensitized on regular basis on the safety precautions on COVID-19 and parents are being advised to prevent children from engaging in child labor. The community volunteers always sensitize a group of two to three people on COVID-19 and child labor while considering social distancing and other safety precautions. About 40 families have benefited from free distribution of liquid soap which was locally made by the children trained in soap making in 2019. This soap is helping to enhance hand washing exercise and this is as tangible positive impact realized from vocational training.

There is clear behavioral change among the children previously trained by EWAD, to include children who were training in life Skills, Vocational Skills and those counselled at the motivation centers. These children are helping their parents in domestic work and they have exhibiting admirable behaviors in the community. For example, Okare Joel is a Youth who received training in Carpentry; he has started making furniture [beds] from a workshop in Tiira Town Council (Deogratious Mugenyi, Tiira, 25th May 2020). This is proof that the skills he acquired from the vocational institution are changing his life. This is serves as a good learning point, and an encouragement for other school drop-out children that there is hope for a sustainable source of livelihood other than being in the mines.

Other children who were at the Vocational Training Centers are still hopeful enough to go back to school and do not wish to lose the opportunity they have been granted. However, the community volunteers expressed their concern about the children that had reported at the Center, and wish to continue but have had to stay home during school closure, but wish to resume after the lockdown. The prolonged closure of school is envisioned to affect the children behavior negatively due to peer influence. Nevertheless, these children expressed desire to come back to the Centers and they also hope to get opportunities to be supported to joint vocational training.

Lessons learned from COVID-19 Pandemic

The community volunteers expressed some of the key lessons learnt. Most people used to practice ‘hand to mouth’ and poor financial planning lifestyle, the COVID-19 caught them unprepared. The following are some of the key lessons learnt by the community;

  • Saving culture; the community have been practicing poor savings skills and they were living on hand to mouth life style, which led to most them being unable to provide food for the families leading to hunger. They all talk about doing better in the post-Covid-19 error.
  • Controlled Expenditure; the community lacked planning on expenditure and they were over-spending on non-essential goods, or utilizing essential resources irresponsibly. However, COVID-19 has forced the community to realize the proper resource utilization, for example to invest in food and to practice good financial management practices.
  • Need for broadening financial base/Economic diversification; some members relied on mining as the major source of livelihood, and Covid-19 found them unprepared for change. Most of them are now engaged in mainly agriculture and think of diversifying sources of income as insurance to be able to feed their families and to avoid future difficulties when faced by any un-expected crisis.

Conclusions

In general, the community resilience to fighting child labor has reduced because many people are currently absorbed in where to get their next meal and are more focused on survival. Yet this is the time children need more protection from both child-labor and domestic-violence, today and after COVID-19 restrictions.

Hands-on skills training are required for the community to be self-reliant and to sustainability, for example, liquid soap made by the trained youths has been freely distributed to the community to help in regular hand-washing during this pandemic.

The community has also appreciated that saving skills and economic diversification is a key strategy to recovery from the COVID-19, and to be prepared for various forms of any future disasters.

Sensitization has continued by although no big gathering in encouraged, therefore most sensitization exercises are casual comprising of a of group 2 to 3 people only.

Recommendations

There is need to do an in depth scientific investigation of the impact of COVID-19 on communities, and to identify key lessons learnt from this pandemic. This would help to understand and project how the community can be helped to recovery from the effects of COVID-19 and to enhance project planning and implementation.

Reference

This information was gathered from 12 community volunteers/mobilizers and four center teachers whom we are able to work with on phones and these provide a representation of what is happening in the community.

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