Part 1. Gold for development?

“Gold – Making an Impact on the World” (WGC, About Gold, 2013). An apt slogan for the World Gold Council (WCG) whichever way you look at it. But the way you look it makes a world of difference.

Recent WCG research reportedly demonstrates the positive role played by ‘responsible’ gold mining in supporting ‘sustainable’ socio-economic development, highlighting in particular the importance of the sector for development in non-OECD host nations (WGC, Advanced by Gold, 2013). Data from 15 WGC member companies on their 2012 expenditures, including payments to suppliers, employees and governments, were combined in an attempt to comprehensively measure how, on a global scale, value generated by the formal gold mining sector is distributed including how much remains within host nations. These findings, along with other recent evidence of the direct economic impact of gold, provide one indication of the economic value created by gold mining and its contribution to national economies (PwC, 2013). This report concludes that gold plays a fundamental role in advancing economic development and the needs of society. Last week, an online news headline for these study findings boasted that, “New research indicates that responsible gold miners contributed more than $55 billion to sustainable economic development in 2012.”

The aforementioned evidence is just one take on the effects of gold extraction and deals with economic impacts at the global and national levels. Other sources provide a very different perspective. Media examples from the opposite end of the spectrum include: “Barrick ignores UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recommendation regarding Papua New Guinea Rapes” (Oct. 28, 2013); “Destruction of Peru’s rainforest by illegal gold mining is twice as bad as experts thought” (Oct. 28, 2013); “Canadian mining company Infinito Gold seeks to extort $1 billion from Costa Rica” (Oct. 10, 2013); and “Romanian gold rush cancelled as protesters defeat Europe’s biggest gold mine” (Sept. 9, 2013).

Research on formal gold mining at a more local level can also point to quite different conclusions about the impacts of gold mines on local economies and societies. Jobs, income and better education were positive effects of the establishment of a gold mine on nearby villages in Mali, but along with these, mining brought land expropriation, environmental degradation and social tensions. Entrepreneurship and diversification of the local economy related to mining projects were minimal (Jul-Larsen et al, 2006). Harmful socio-economic impacts related to the expansion of gold mining in Peru include adverse effects on water resources, livelihood assets and social relationships, resulting in increased social conflict. At the local level, there is weak evidence of any positive effects on Peruvian livelihoods, especially in rural areas (Bebbington et al, 2009). The socio-economic impacts of small-scale ‘informal’ or ‘illegal’ gold mining have also been studied. Evidence from field surveys, airborne mapping and satellite imagery from the southern Peruvian Amazon region links the greatly increased number of small mines – a 400% increase from 1999-2012 – and resultant forest destruction, to global consumption of gold and the dramatic jump in gold price in 2008 (Asner et al, 2013).

So is gold mining contributing to sustainable development or hindering it? How can we best answer this question? Terry Heymann, the WGC’s Gold for Development Manager, argues that “gold, produced in conformance with high safety, environmental and social standards, provides opportunities in the form of jobs, skills, improved infrastructure and tax revenues, but maximizing the development potential of mining requires continued attention and discussion” (WGC, Advanced by Gold, 2013). Population health intervention research offers a meaningful way of contributing to that discussion.

Image(Figure: ICMM, 2010)

Population health interventions are policies, programs and events that operate within or outside of the health sector and have the potential to impact health at the population level, by generating and shifting the distribution of health risks through their effect on underlying social, economic and environmental conditions (Hawe et al, 2009; Hawe et al, 2013). The intentionality of those interventions, whether inside or outside the health sector, is neutral (Hawe et al, 2009). Gold mining, and any type of resource extraction project, fits into this definition of a population health intervention due to its impact on population health through the environmental, social and economic changes to which it contributes (see the arguably busy causal diagram above for examples). Population health intervention research (PHIR) offers a way of connecting the impacts of mining at multiple levels and on multiple determinants to the actual population health outcomes and health equity, important measures of sustainability. This type of research is necessary if we are to fully understand how gold is making an impact on the world.

To be continued. 

References:

Asner, G. et al. Gold mining ravages Peru. Carnegie Institution of Science. Monday, October 28, 2013. URL: http://carnegiescience.edu/news/gold_mining_ravages_perú

Bebbington, A.J. & J. Bury. Institutional Challenges to Mining and Sustainability in Peru. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(41), October 2009. URL: http://www.pnas.org/content/106/41/17296.full?sid=ecb93442-632a-4083-aaf6-04be0359aee1.

Hawe, P. & L. Potvin. What is population health intervention research? Canadian Journal of Public Health, 2009, 100(1):I8-I14.

Hawe, P., E. Di Ruggerio, & E. Cohen. Frequently asked questions about population health intervention research. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 2012, 103(6):468-71.

International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM). Best practice guidance on health impact assessment, 2010. URL: http://www.icmm.com/library/hia

Jul-Larsen, E. & S. Lange. Socio-economic effects of gold mining in Mali: A study of the Sadiola and Morila mining operations. Chr. Michelson Institute, 2006. URL: http://www.cmi.no/publications/publication/?2340=socio-economic-effects-of-gold-mining-in-mali.

Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC). The direct economic impact of gold, 2013. URL. http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/mining/publications/mining/the-direct-economic-impact-of-gold.jhtml 2013.

World Gold Council (WGC). About Gold, 2013. URL. http://www.gold.org/about_gold/sustainability/socio-economic/responsible_mining_value_distribution/

World Gold Council (WGC). Advanced by Gold 2013. URL: http://www.gold.org/advanced_by_gold/#impact

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