Due to inadequate planning and regulation, diamond mining has wreaked environmental havoc throughout Africa and other parts of the world. But the damage to the environment is not the inevitable result of diamond mining – there are ways to mitigate the effects.
A century of reckless diamond mining has taken a heavy toll on Angola’s environment. Irresponsible diamond mining has caused soil erosion, led to deforestation and forced local populations to relocate. Angola’s diamond industry has been particularly careless in protecting rivers and streams from exploitation. Diamond miners have re-routed rivers and constructed dams to expose riverbeds for mining, with disastrous effects on fish and wildlife.
In extreme cases, diamond mining can cause entire ecosystems to collapse. Diamond miners in the Kono district of eastern Sierra Leone have left behind thousands of abandoned mining pits. Wildlife has vanished, topsoil has eroded, and land once suitable for farming is now a desolate moonscape. The mining pits have created a public health disaster as well. When the pits fill with stagnant rainwater, they become infested with mosquitoes, spreading malaria and other water-borne diseases.
Responsible Diamond Mining
Diamond mining is generally less harmful to the environment than other types of mining, such as gold mining, because it does not make use of toxic chemicals. Despite serious environmental risks, effective regulation and proper planning can minimize diamond mining’s environmental impact. The Canadian Arctic is a very fragile ecosystem, but it is heavily regulated to protect the surroundings. Namibia and Botswana have been similarly successful in implementing environmental safeguards in their diamond mines.
In addition, landscapes altered by diamond mining can be rehabilitated. In Canada, Namibia, and Botswana, land restoration is scheduled when mining operations cease. Even in the Kono district of Sierra Leone, where the land was once thought to be beyond repair, land restoration is improving the landscape. Local communities are now working with international partners to fill in the mining pits, bring back native species, and replace lost topsoil. To further these efforts, Brilliant Earth’s non-profit fund has supported land restoration programs in the Kono district, helping to revive the local ecosystem and make former mining lands available for productive farming.