Gold Is Not the Enemy – Poverty Is

National Geographic magazine has published an article titled The Price of Gold focusing on the high price of gold and the high human costs of gold production. The piece reveals useful data on artisan miners in the world and the health hazards they face daily while mixing mercury to separate rock from gold. Overall, the article leans firmly against India’s growing demand for gold and the metal’s global providers: 75% of the world’s gold comes from large-scale mining companies, and 25% from artisan miners.

The article questions gold exploitation per se, and overlooks that responsible mining companies may be the solution to eliminate poverty and the damage caused by informal miners. But, the piece does recognize that responsible large-scale mining brings prosperity to developing countries.

Baru Hijau was supposed to be a model mine, and Newmont likes to tout its benefits: the $391 million in local royalties and taxes it paid in 2007, the more than 8,000 jobs it has created for Indonesians, the reported $600 million spent to minimize environmental damage. Then there’s the more than $3 million Newmont spend each year on community development. It may be a pittance compared with the company’s annual revenues, but it has provided the five villages closest to the mine with electricity, health clinics, irrigation dams, and agriculture projects.

That single paragraph is a very powerful one, yet it is followed by a negative paragraph that describes the jealously of other communities that do not directly benefit from the project.

But the most important issue in this matter it is not the hunger for gold from India, or the millions in profits mining companies are making, but how a single industry can change the lives of thousands of the poor by providing job opportunities and basic services. Larger modern firms can also put an end to risky informal miners and children miners, who risk their lives everyday. These men, women, girls and boys often subsist on bunches of coca leaves they chew—nothing more. And they sometimes pour local liqueurs called pisco at the mine entrance in tribute to spirits they hope will keep them alive as in La Rinconada, in Perú.