‘Pallaqueras’ face significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo credit: David Mansell-Moullin
Assessing the consequences of COVID-19
It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 small scale miners in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. The quarantine and compulsory confinement in Peru, where mining was labelled as a “non-essential” activity, has brought several negative impacts, particularly on 'Pallaqueras'. These are female miners who work by picking up waste ore on the mountain slopes near mines. 75 percent of these women lack information about symptoms, protocols, and possible contagion situations. 78 percent have not received any public aid. Over 50 percent lack any kind of health insurance, which increases their vulnerability to contagion due the lack of access to health services and other social protection programmes. This is of particular concern, because ‘Pallaqueras’ are exposed to various occupational hazards, such as respiratory diseases or chronic conditions, which make them even more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Artisanal miners in Bolivia
Even in Bolivia, where mining resumed in May, an assessment on the impact of covid-19 in the ASM sector, carried by Solidaridad and Cumbre del Sajama, pointed out public measures fell short in facing the consequences of the pandemic, such as the shortage of essential inputs to operate. The most vulnerable groups in this context are also female miners, since the vast majority are widows, divorcees or single mothers. Gold cooperatives have reported that their female members who live furthest from the most important rural centers, have become isolated and can't even access food supplies.
In Colombia, artisanal and small-scale mining communities are also among the most vulnerable population: female heads of household, victims of armed conflict and afro communities, with limited schooling in most cases. According to the survey Solidaridad and the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) ran on the impact of Covid-19 on the lives of four small mining communities in Colombia, only a third of the miners interviewed received some kind of public aid. Due to the halt in transportation and other services needed, miners’ associations have been unable to market their minerals, cutting down their financial capacity to resume operations. As a consequence, 71 percent of associations were revealed to be struggling to pay their workforce, or had to drop a substantial part of their payroll. To make matters worse, the survey estimated that adjusting to prevention protocols might increase their production costs by 45 or even 60 percent.
"Given the current restrictions, we retained half our working force. It has been very difficult to keep with the payroll, security and tax payments. In addition, the banking sector is biased against us when we knock on their door to access some of the benefits the Colombian government announced.” - mining representative
Artisanal mining without COVID
Other major barriers to resuming activities are the lack of access to basic services, roads to link remote areas, and information to prevent contagion in the specific ASM endeavour. To this end, Solidaridad was quick to collaborate in the development of health protocols to face COVID-19 in cooperative mining in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.
In Bolivia, Solidaridad and Cumbre del Sajama, with the support of the Government of the Netherlands, produced a booklet with good hygiene and disinfection recommendations, to control risks of contagion at work or when travelling to their work. The booklet has recently gained the official support of the Mining and Metallurgy Ministry of Bolivia. In Peru, Solidaridad, PlanetGold Peru, Alliance for Responsible Mining, Artisanal Gold Council, Instituto de Redes de Desarrollo Social, Megam and Pure Earth presented the campaign "ASM without COVID-19" to promote another sanitary booklet to tackle COVID-19. The booklet comprises 24 recommendations in entering facilities, common areas, cargo transportation, and procedures to follow in cases of contagion and. These have been shared among miners through whatsapp, facebook groups and SMS. They are expected to reach around 300-400 thousand small scale miners within this year.
Crowdfunding campaign to help women miners
Making visible a problem that affects thousands of people is but the first step to provide any kind of support or solution to them.
With the lead of Peruvian NGO Red Social, Solidaridad has created a crowdfunding campaign to create a support network that can reach between 200 and 1,000 ‘pallaqueras’. The funds raised will be used, specifically to:
Set a call center that provides timely information on how to prevent and handle COVID-19 infection.
Run a remote capacity building programme to adjust their work practices, daily social activities and family routines to the COVID-19 scenario.
Purchase food and other supplies to support them and their children for as long as the sanitary emergency lasts.