Saturday, July 04, 2020

Zimbabwean Misery

With a rapidly devaluing currency and hyperinflation last measured in May at close to 800 percent on an annual basis, most Zimbabweans have haplessly watched their earnings evaporate. Some cannot afford to feed themselves any more  - a loaf of bread currently costs $1.
In 2009, soaring inflation prompted Zimbabwe to ditch its failing sovereign currency in favour of a series of foreign currencies led by the United States dollar. But "dollarising" the economy hit a major bump in 2015 when greenbacks started vanishing from the formal banking system.

In a bid to end the US dollar shortage, Zimbabwe's central bank in 2016 introduced bond notes - a form of surrogate currency - that was backed by a $200m bond facility from the Africa Export-Import Bank. But black market speculation quickly eroded the bond note's value, triggering a shortage that the central bank tried to offset by creating electronic notes.
In February 2019, bond notes - both physical and electronic - were merged into the Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) dollar, also known as the Zimdollar.
In June last year, the government banned transacting in all foreign currencies and eventually introduced a new Zimbabwean dollar in November.
"The crisis has reached tipping point, for sure," said economist Victor Bhoroma, citing the "high levels of inflation, serious wage compression for labour, income and exchange rate losses for businesses, persistent fuel shortages, corruption and high levels of starvation".
Professionals have also been hit by the economic meltdown. The highest-paid teacher in February earned a salary of 4,600 Zimbabwean dollars ($51) at the black market rate of $1:90 Zimbabwean dollars. Last month, the salaries of government workers were raised by 50 percent, but soaring inflation means the increase will make little difference.
And with the local currency losing purchasing power as the US dollar continues to appreciate against it, civil servants have been demanding US dollar-denominated salaries. On Monday, nurses began a new round of industrial action.
"The [Zimbabwean] $3,000 [$33.3] average salary we earn is not sufficient to cover basic needs without even adding the costs required to attend work," the Zimbabwe Nurses' Association (ZINA), which represents about 15,000 state nurses, said in a statement.
Bhoroma, the economist, said bold reforms are required to extricate Zimbabwe out of the crisis.
"Zimbabwe's problems lie in the culture of governance in government, the spirit of cronyism in our leadership, policy inconsistency and decaying institutions. So, in a way, it's the system and structure of governance that needs to change not the faces in leadership that come from the ruling party in government. Zimbabwe critically needs reforms more than anything at the present moment."

Africa's Suffering

The Western  world view has no room for inconvenient facts like the continuing legacy of the slave trade and colonialism as well as that Africa is actually a net creditor to the rest of the world - a 2014 analysis of 39 African countries found that what had been extracted from them between 1970 and 2010 and parked offshore was more than four times as much as they owed in external debt, and nearly equal to what they had received in foreign direct investment and aid combined.
It also drives what  author Teju Cole called the White Savior Industrial Complex, which prioritises "having a big emotional experience that validates privilege" above justice and addressing the racist systems of oppression and extraction that buttress that privilege at the cost of immiserating a large proportion of the globe. 
According to the Suffering in Silence report produced annually by CARE International, nine of the 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises of 2019 were happening in Africa, the sole exception being North Korea's malnutrition calamity. It cites the European Commission's definition of forgotten humanitarian crises as those that "receive insufficient international aid and attention, notably in terms of media coverage".

The Billionaire looting the Congo

Israeli billionaire mining investor Dan Gertler has denied that he had tried to evade US sanctions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An investigation by the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) and campaign group Global Witness said he had used a global money laundering network to get around US sanctions and extract mineral wealth from DR Congo.
The report by the two rights organisations published on Thursday cited evidence indicating that Gertler had moved millions of dollars through Afriland First Bank’s branch in DR Congo in order to dodge the sanctions.
"Gertler appears to have used a money laundering network stretching from Democratic Republic of Congo to Europe and Israel to evade US sanctions against him, funnel millions of dollars abroad, and acquire new mining assets in DR Congo," the report said.
Its said its findings were "based on documents provided by whistleblowers despite great risks to their personal safety".
The report pointed to leaked bank documents allegedly showing millions of dollars moving in and out of Afriland accounts opened by people with ties to Gertler, Reuters news agency reported.
Gertler denied the allegations: “I have no relationship whatsoever with numerous individuals supposedly identified in this story and the cash deposits referred to are fictitious or have nothing to do with me, or anyone on my behalf."
In 2017 the United States froze all the assets and accounts of Gertler, a close ally of former DR Congo President Joseph Kabila - accusing the billionaire of profiting from massive resource corruption in Africa.
According to the US Treasury Department, DR Congo lost more than $1.36bn (£1bn) between 2010 and 2012 in state revenues from under-priced mining assets sold to offshore companies tied to the billionaire.

Tanzania Becomes a Middle-Income Nation

Tanzania is now officially a middle-income country after the World Bank published a reviewed classification of world economies.
The East African nation enters into that bracket of middle-income countries with a GNI per capita of between $1,006 (£806) and $3,955 - a rough measure of each person's annual national income.
Last year, Tanzania’s economy grew by 6.8% in 2019 and 7% in 2018, one of the fastest growth rates in the world.
According to analysts, this rate of growth has been going for over a decade, and continued after President John Magufuli took office.
The country is the second largest economy in the region and now joins Kenya as the second East Africa Community member state in the middle-income bracket.
Will it make any difference to the poor?

Friday, July 03, 2020

DRC Misery

The news from the DR of the Congo is rarely good. 

Over one million people from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) have been forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries since the beginning of 2020, according to a report by the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR.

 A total of 5 million people have so far been uprooted from DR Congo. According to the report, DR Congo has one of the highest rates of internal displacement in the world.

The UNHCR said that it had recorded several events of killing, mutilation, sexual violence and looting in the country in the last eight weeks. "UNHCR and its partners have recorded multiple attacks by armed groups on displacement sites and villages", said the report.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Dirty Diesel in Nigeria

Black market fuel made from stolen oil in rudimentary “bush” refineries hidden deep in the creeks and swamps of the Niger delta is less polluting than the highly toxic diesel and petrol that Europe exports to Nigeria. The extreme toxicity of the “official” fuel exported from Europe surprised researchers who took samples of diesel sold in government-licensed filling stations in Port Harcourt and Lagos. They found that on average the fuel exceeded EU pollution limits by as much as 204 times, and by 43 times the level for gasoline. Laboratory analysis also showed that the black market fuel was highly polluting but of a higher quality than the imported diesel and gasoline. The average “unofficial” diesel tested exceeded the level of EU sulphur standards 152 times, and 40 times the level for gasoline. 

Shell, Exxon, Chevron and other major oil companies extract and export up to 2m barrels a day of high quality, low sulphur “Bonny Light” crude from the Niger delta. But very little of this oil is refined in the country because its four state-owned refineries are dysfunctional or have closed80% of Nigeria’s petroleum products come from the Netherlands and Belgium. The two countries have some of Europe’s largest refineries.

International dealers export to Nigeria around 900,000 tonnes a year of low-grade, “dirty” fuel, made in Dutch, Belgian and other European refineries, and hundreds of small-scale artisanal refineries produce large quantities of illegal fuel from oil stolen from the network of oil pipelines that criss-cross the Niger delta. Illegal artisanal refineries are said by SDN to be growing fast in number and scale, now producing 5-20% of all the gasoline and diesel consumed in Nigeria from the estimated 175,000 barrels of crude oil stolen each year. The bush refineries are highly dangerous and frequently explode, adding to air, water and soil pollution in the mangrove swamps. But they are an important source of income for communities.

The net result, says international resource watchdog group Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) in a new report, is that Nigeria has some of the worst air pollution in the world, with dense clouds of choking soot hanging over gridlocked cities leading to a rise in serious health conditions as well as damaged vehicles. Nigeria ranks fourth in the world for deaths caused by air pollution. The air quality in cities like Port Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha and Kaduna has reached crisis levels of pollution in recent years, and there is mounting evidence of rising asthma, lung, heart and respiratory diseases. The SDN report calculates that around half the air pollution in Port Harcourt, a city of more than 3 million people, comes from the burning of official and unofficial fuel. The rest comes from nearby gas flaring, other industries, and the burning of rubbish.

Levels of particulate matter in Port Harcourt and Lagos, says SDN, are 20% worse than Delhi in India, the most polluted capital city in the world, where emergency levels of photochemical smogs are common. In 2016, the River Niger port city of Onitsha was said by the World Health Organization to be the world’s most polluted city, the concentration of PM10s – soot particles – was recorded at 594 micrograms per cubic metre; compared with the WHO safe limit of 66.

“Our research suggests that Nigeria is having dirty fuel dumped on it that cannot be sold to other countries with higher and better implemented standards. The situation is so bad that the average diesels sampled are of an even lower quality that that produced by artisanal refining camps in the creeks of the Niger delta,” said Florence Kayemba, SDN programme manager.

More than half of developing countries, mainly in Africa and Latin America, still use high-sulphur fuels which have long been illegal to burn in western countries. In Nigeria the practice is encouraged by an opaque fuel subsidy system that keeps prices relatively low at the pumps, but is widely thought to fuel corruption. Refineries in Europe are allowed to make the fuel if countries agree to accept it.

“The Niger delta already suffers environmental, health and livelihood impacts from decades of oil spill pollution, gas flaring and artisanal refining. This research indicates that it not only experiences the repercussions of producing crude oil, but also in the consumption of dirty official and unofficial fuels,” said the report.

A Dutch government report in 2018, that European refineries and commodity brokers were blending crude oil with benzene and other carcinogenic chemicals to create fuels hundreds of times over European pollution limits for the weakly-regulated African market. This was said to be causing significant particulate pollution, damage to vehicles, and adverse health impacts for local populations.

Nigeria, along with Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Benin promised in 2017 to stop the imports of “Africa quality” oil products as part of a UN environment programme initiative. But while Ghana has acted, reducing sulphur from 3,000 to 50 parts per million, Nigeria has argued that it needs more time to adapt.

South Africa's Police Brutality

 As the killing of George Floyd sparked protests worldwide, South Africans joined calls for action against police brutality following the deaths of at least 10 black people at the hands of law enforcement under a coronavirus lockdown. Thousands have attended Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg to protest violence by security forces implementing the lockdown - and prior to the pandemic - directed mainly at poor, black communities.
"This brutality and violence is not at all new. What is new is that during this lockdown, a harsher spotlight has been shone on these abuses," said Thato Masiangoako, a researcher for the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa.
More than 42,000 complaints were made about the police between 2012 and 2019, including rape, killings and torture, according to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), the police watchdog.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

South Africa - History

Letters to the Editors from the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editor,

P. Lawrence, in his article on South Africa, asserts that “tribal differences also divided the African peoples who in the seventeenth century had migrated south from East Africa (Socialist Standard, April 1990). This claim is also to be found in the more dated official literature such as the South African Department of Information publication Progress through Separate Development (1973) and anyone familiar with Apartheid historiography will readily appreciate its purpose as one of a battery of “myths of origin" that Apartheid ideologists have deployed over the years to legitimate the contemporary distribution of land between "White South Africa" (87 percent) and the "Black Homelands" (13 percent). According to the above publication, "the story of modern South Africa dates back more than 300 years when the forefathers of the various Bantu or black nations of South Africa and the white South African nation, all foreigners to southern Africa, converged in relatively small numbers and from different directions on what was, at the time, a practically empty country except for small roving bands of primitive nomadic Bushmen and Hottentots" (p.12). The present distribution of land between whites and blacks, it is argued, reflects the original pattern of settlement of these two groups and involved "neither colonialism nor conquest".

This bears no relation to the historical reality. For some time now it has been known that the interior of South Africa was populated by iron age Bantu-speaking farmers long before the 17th century (when the Dutch arrived at the Cape) and was continuously occupied since, notwithstanding the Mfecane, or inter-tribal wars in the early 19th century, which supposedly depopulated the interior prior to the Great Trek. According to Shula Marks, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the first wave of Bantu migration arrived south of the Limpopo River “early in the first millenium AD, and not, as had been previously assumed, relatively late in the second" (History Today January 1980). There are, for example, numerous traces of ancient African settlements and mine workings throughout much of so-called White South Africa. Indeed, the archaeological evidence against the thesis of "simultaneous occupation” is now so overwhelming that not even the official propaganda of the South Africa Government bothers any longer to peddle this nonsense (cf. Official Yearbook of South Africa 1983). It is therefore all the more surprising that one should find it being perpetuated in, of all places, the Socialist Standard

Robin Cox, 
Haslemere, Surrey

Although we never expressed the view our correspondent has read into the article (we merely stated that there was a migration of Bantu-speaking tribes, in the 17th century, into what is now South Africa, which is true), we naturally defer to the archeological evidence, not that it has any contemporary political relevance. The fact the Bantu-speakers were there first does not justify the claim that the ruling class in South Africa should be drawn from their ranks any more than the Afrikaner nationalist distortion of history justifies their claim that the ruling class should be white. Socialist are not interested in such arguments. We say there should be no ruling class, no states with their frontiers and nationalist mythologies, and no monopoly ownership of land

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Skin Colour Prejudice

Beauty companies selling skin lightening products have been criticised in the wake of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests.

Unilever has announced that it will rename and rebrand the Fair & Lovely product range, which is popular in many African countries, to reflect the diversity of beauty.

"We recognise that the use of the words ‘fair’, ‘white’ and ‘light’ suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right, and we want to address this," Sunny Jain, President Beauty & Personal Care was quoted as saying in a press release from the company.

In July of last year, the Socialist Standard drew attention to the racial prejudice of the cosmetic industry

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Locked in in Lockdown

Police in Nigeria have rescued 300 people they say were locked in a rice-processing factory and forced to work throughout a coronavirus lockdown. From the end of March the men were allegedly not allowed to leave the mill in the northern city of Kano.
The workers were promised an additional $13 (£10) a month on top of their $72 monthly salary - those who did not accept were threatened with the sack. Some of the men say were forced to work most of the time during their incarceration, with little food.
"We were allowed to rest for only a short time, no prayers were allowed, no family visits," 28-year-old Hamza Ibrahim, one of those rescued, told the BBC's Mansur Abubakar in Kano.
"What I saw was heart breaking. Where the company kept these people to live isn't fit for animals," Karibu Yahaya Kabara of the Global Human Rights Network told the BBC. "Their meals weren't enough and there were no drugs for those that took ill," he said.Mr Kabara said his organisation was taking up the case to ensure that the men got justice.
Five managers at the mill have been arrested.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Oil Pollution in Niger Delta

In 2011, a ground-breaking report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on oil pollution in Ogoniland highlighted the devastating impact of the oil industry in the Niger Delta and made concrete recommendations for clean-up measures and immediate support for the region's devastated communities.

Now, nearly ten years later, a new report published Thursday by Friends of the Earth Europe, Amnesty International, ERA, and Milieudefensie, details Shell's failure to implement the "emergency measures" laid out by UNEP and says only 11% of contaminated areas in the Niger Delta have begun the clean-up process.

"After nine years of promises without proper action and decades of pollution, the people of Ogoniland are not only sick of dirty drinking water, oil-contaminated fish and toxic fumes," said Godwin Ojo of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria. "They are sick of waiting for justice," Ojo added. "They are dying by the day."

Shell Oil has dumped an estimated nine to 13 million barrels of crude oil into the Niger Delta since 1958.

"Oil and gas extraction has caused large-scale, continued contamination of the water and soil in Ogoni communities," said Friends of the Earth in a statement. "The continued and systematic failure of oil companies and government to clean up have left hundreds of thousands of Ogoni people facing serious health risks, struggling to access safe drinking water, and unable to earn a living."

"The discovery of oil in Ogoniland has brought huge suffering for its people," said Osai Ojigho of Amnesty International Nigeria. "Over many years we have documented how Shell has failed to clean up contamination from spills and it’s a scandal that this has not yet happened." The ecological damage, Ojigho added, "is leading to serious human rights impacts—on people’s health and ability to access food and clean water. Shell must not get away with this—we will continue to fight until every last trace of oil is removed from Ogoniland."

 The new report concluded that:
  • 1. Work has begun on only 11% of polluted sites identified by UNEP, with only a further 5% included in current clean-up efforts, and no site has been entirely cleaned up;
  • 2. Actions classified by UNEP as “emergency measures” - immediate action on drinking water and health protection - have not been implemented properly; there are still communities without access to clean water supplies;
  • 3. Health and environmental monitoring has not been carried out;
  • 4. There has not been any public accounting for how the 31 million USD funding provided since 2018 has been spent;
  • 5. 11 of 16 companies contracted for the clean-up are reported to have no registered expertise in oil pollution remediation or related areas;
  • 6. HYPREP (The Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project) has numerous conflicts of interest as Shell continues to be involved in the governing boards for the clean-up and even places its own staff in HYPREP.

Mali Unrest

Tens of thousands of protesters in Mali have gathered in the capital, Bamako, calling for the president to resign. Demonstrating crowds gathered in Bamako's Independence Square, chanting slogans, blowing plastic trumpets and holding placards with anti-government messages. A letter has also been sent to the president by the opposition groups demanding his resignation.
Led by conservative imam Mahmoud Dicko, a coalition of opposition groups is demanding political and economic reform.
They are seeking the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta because of escalating jihadist and inter-communal violence. Keïta was first elected president of the west African nation in 2013. He secured a second five-year term in 2018. But he has come under mounting pressure in recent months due to Mali's worsening economy, coronavirus, and a teachers' strike. Political tensions have also arisen from a disputed legislative election in March, and allegations of corruption.
Mali has been wracked by instability since 2012, when Islamist groups hijacked an insurrection by Tuareg separatists, seizing swathes of territory in the north. But violent attacks on government forces and UN peacekeepers continue. In recent days, the president has been pushed to make concessions to opposition groups, like raising the salaries of public teachers following a pay dispute.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Pig Fever in Nigeria

Hundreds of thousands of pigs have been culled by Nigerian farmers in response to an explosion of African swine fever (ASF). The outbreak began around Lagos and parts of neighbouring Ogun state earlier this year, pig farmers say, but has now spread to many other parts of the country.

In the past decade, ASF has regularly surfaced in several parts of Africa. Between 2016 and 2019, more than 60­ outbreaks were reported across the continent. More than 20,000 jobs are at risk. 
But the recent wave of infections is the worst by farWe have never experienced anything of this scale in the past. This is the worst and largest outbreak ever,” says Ayo Omirin, a pig farmer at Oke-Aro.
ASF is harmless to humans but in pigs and wild boar the fatality rate is nearly 100%, and there is no vaccine against it. Safety depends on controlling animal movement and ensuring hygiene in farms, slaughterhouses and abattoirs. In Nigeria, many farms are not up to the task.

Uganda's Deforestation

Conservationists have branded a decision by the Ugandan high court to allow swathes of forest to be cleared for a sugarcane plantation “an unforgivable shame for all people”.
Work to clear 900 hectares (2,223 acres) of Bugoma Forest Reserve, in Hoima, began last month after the court ruled that the land, leased by Hoima Sugar Company Ltd, lay outside the protected area of the forest. The court ordered the National Forestry Authority (NFA), which manages it, to vacate the land.
The land was leased to Hoima Sugar, which has a 70% shareholding in Kinyara Sugar Works in neighbouring Masindi district, in 2016 for 99 years by Solomon Iguru Gafabusa, king of the ancient kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara. He said the leased area was ancestral land and not part of the protected forest.
Costantino Tessarin, chairperson of Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest, said: “Whether the land falls inside the boundaries of the gazetted reserve or not … is a merely sterile exercise for primary school students. “Because the reality is that we are talking about [an] ecosystem of international importance that cannot be discussed in parts and pieces,” he said. The decision to go ahead with clearing the forest was “an unforgivable shame for all people of common sense, not only in Uganda but in the world”. He explained, “Sugarcane is not only environmentally unfriendly in general, but in particular when it becomes the buffer zone of a tropical rainforest,” said Tessarin.
He said sugarcane was not the best crop to use as a buffer zone around a protected area because it doesn’t mix well with wildlife. “There are crops and landscapes which are more appropriate in buffer zones areas where there are chimpanzees and … almost 10 species of primates, plus other wildlife,” he said.
Conservation groups and forestry experts have long warned that destroying even just a part of the forest’s diversity would lead to a loss of fauna and flora, and affect the water levels of the River Nile.
“We consider this plan not only detrimental to the Ugandan government plans to develop and invest in tourism in Bugoma Forest, but to the overall fragile and rich ecosystem which will simply be irreparably compromised,” said Tessarin, who is also director of Uganda Jungle Lodges and owner of Bugoma Jungle Lodge.
The reserve, which covers 41,144 hectares, is the largest remaining block of natural tropical forest along the Albertine Rift Valley and adjacent to Budongo Forest and Semuliki National Park. It plays an enormous role in preserving wildlife migratory corridors. It is home to 23 species of animals, including an estimated 550 highly endangered chimpanzees, Ugandan mangabeys (an endemic primate), 225 species of birds and 260 species of trees.
Forest have shrunk from 24% of Uganda’s total land area in 1990 to 9% in 2015, because of land disputes and deforestation, according to State of Uganda’s Forestry report.
“To throw away Bugoma would be to throw away rain, biodiversity,” said Cathy Watson, head of programme development at World Agroforestry. “It would also be to throw away Uganda’s reputation on the climate, forest and wildlife front.”

Monday, June 15, 2020

Agroecology for Africa

Africa has huge population that can potentially provide manpower, sufficient land, good soil, and the sun, but the only problem is that capitalism does not support what is the best for the continent.

Agroecology has the potential to build resilience and sustainability at all levels, by reducing vulnerability to future supply shocks and trade disruptions, reconnecting people with local food production, and making fresh, nutritious food accessible and affordable to all. This, according to the scientists, will reduce the diet-related health conditions that make people susceptible to diseases, and provide fair wages and secure conditions to food and farm workers, thereby reducing their vulnerability to economic shocks and their risks of contracting and spreading illnesses. However, the findings show that very little agricultural research funding in Africa is being used to transform such food and farming systems. The scientists found that only 3 percent of Gates Foundation projects in Africa support sustainable, regenerative approaches or agroecology.  Agroecology taps into traditional agricultural knowledge and practices, plays an important role in sustainable farming by harnessing local ecosystems. Tapping into local ecosystems, for example via using biomass and biodiversity, the traditional farming practices that make up agroecology can improve soil quality and achieve food yields that provide balanced nutrition

A new study by researchers from BiovisionInternational Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and the United Kingdom-based Institute of Development Studies shows that such sustainable and regenerative farming techniques have either been neglected, ignored or disregarded by major donors…most governments, both in developing and developed countries, still favour “green revolution” approaches, with the belief that chemical-intensive, large-scale industrial agriculture is the only way to produce sufficient food.

“These approaches have failed,” said Herren, winner of the 1995 World Food Prize and 2013 Right Livelihood Award. “They have failed ecosystems, farming communities, and an entire continent,” he said.
Dr Lusike Wasilwa, a senior research scientist at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), believes that donors are investing more money in industrial agriculture not because it is the magic bullet for Kenya and other African countries, but because they have an agenda.
“Kenya needs to wake up and find its position in production of crops such as avocado and macadamia nuts, which are largely grown using sustainable and largely environment-friendly methods,” Wasilwa, who is also the director of Crops Systems at KALRO, explained. “No donor is willing to support such crops that could easily make Africa rich,” she said. “We should not let donors set our research agenda because they are not going to fund research that will help Africa make money,” the scientist told IPS. 

Cobalt Mining and Birth Defects

People in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are being exposed to dangerous levels of toxic pollution that is causing birth defects in their children as they mine for cobalt used to make rechargeable batteries for smartphones, laptops and electric cars, a new medical study has found. Cobalt mined in the DRC accounts for 60% of global production of the mineral.

Research published in the Lancet last week found that local people working in mines in the African “copperbelt”, a mining region stretching across Zambia and the DRC, are at significantly higher risk of having children born with serious birth defects.

Researchers from the University of Lubumbashi in the DRC and the universities of Leuven and Ghent in Belgium found that the risk of birth defects greatly increased when a parent worked in a copper and cobalt mine.

The researchers linked the increased risk to the high levels of toxic pollution caused by the extraction of cobalt in southern Katanga, named one of the 10 most polluted areas in the world.

The study was commissioned after academics at the University of Leuven read reports from local doctors, NGOs and local authorities of high numbers of children of miners in the DRC being born with conditions such as limb abnormalities, cleft palates and neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

"Every day tens of thousands of workers are exposed to heavy work with a lot of pollutants and dust. The health of the miners and their families must be taken into account by anyone who profits from or uses cheap smartphones around the world,”  said Dr Daan Van Brusselen, a paediatrician at Ghent University who worked on the study alongside doctors in Belgium and the DRC.

Earlier this year a lawsuit was launched in the US, which accused the world’s largest technology companies of aiding and abetting in the deaths of children working in mines in the DRC. The case is ongoing.