Minerals in Post-Disaster Reconstruction

September 11, 2019

Cobblestones paving in Zambia. Credit: ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme

By: Degol Hailu, Caroline Ngonze and Daniel Franks

Two numbers to think about: Over 200 million people are affected by natural disasters each year, and the economic costs of destruction reach $300 billion per year on average.*

Hurricanes, cyclones, floods and earthquakes have been relentless, particularly in the Caribbean and Pacific islands. Besides the precious loss of human lives, millions are left homeless and vital infrastructure is lost. Hurricane Dorian is the latest reminder of the brutal damage small nations face.

The notable initiative in this area is the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. It highlights the importance of pre-disaster preparedness (prevention and reduction) as well as post-disaster recovery (recovery and reconstruction).

In the post-disaster phase, however, national planning often falls short of including the minerals sector commensurate to the number and amount of raw materials it supplies to reconstruction projects.

To our great surprise, construction materials and industrial minerals make up 84% of all types of minerals produced globally. What is not surprising is that minerals like sand, gravel, aggregates, cement, marl, clay and limestone are used in the reconstruction of damaged houses, buildings and infrastructure, forming the backbone of the Building Back Better approach.

For instance, after the 2016 Cyclone Winston in Fiji, local sourcing of sand, clay, aggregates and limestone were needed to reconstruct 80,000 destroyed and 32,000 partially destroyed houses, schools, private residences and public buildings. A Post Disaster Needs Assessment was conducted but overlooked the more than 70 sites that make up the quarry sector. After the cyclone, Fiji suffered major shortages of construction materials, completely running out of cement, which it needed to import in great quantity.

A massive reconstruction effort has already begun in the aftermath of the devastating Tropical Cyclone Idai in Mozambique. According to the Government, $3 billion is needed to repair and rebuild infrastructure—the largest investment going to the housing sector, followed by transport. However, the Needs Assessment overlooks the minerals sector, and the need to integrate it into the reconstruction process. The risk will be relying too much on imported minerals, placing an even greater burden on the foreign currency shortage.

Due to their weight, construction materials and industrial minerals are better sourced locally. This fact presents greater opportunities to nurture domestic supply chains. More so because these minerals are predominantly produced by artisanal and small-scale operators. For example, in Jamaica, the sector has created 1,750 direct and 7,000-8,750 indirect jobs. An estimated 2,325 Fijians are employed in the regulated part of the industry. In Uganda, 390,000 people work in the sector, 44% of them women. In Guinea (Conakry), 29,000 workers are actively engaged, women making up 41%.

In Fiji, Mozambique and other places, there is still scope to improve policies and implement innovative programmes that better integrate artisanal and small-scale enterprises in the supply-chain for post-disaster reconstruction.

In terms of policy, procurement rules (construction bids) could give greater emphasis to sourcing of construction minerals from domestic producers. Special focus could be given to women-owned and -run enterprises, who, often face entry barriers.

Policies that facilitate trade in minerals and remove tariff and non-tariff barriers will be key to developing regional markets. For this, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) presents the opportunity.

Another policy area to look at is clean energy. The post-disaster reconstruction phase can also be a phase for the transition from fossil fuel-driven infrastructure to clean and renewable energy sources. Solar, wind, hydropower and batteries, in turn, rely on industrial minerals. As we argued in a previous blog, the transition to clean energy creates the opportunity to build domestic minerals value addition and processing capacity in copper, cobalt, graphite and other industrial minerals.

In terms of programming, among the limited on-going global initiatives, the notable one is the UNDP implemented ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme. More than 30,596 people benefited from the capacity development activities of this Programme, focusing on mine and quarry management, environment, health and safety standards, enterprise skills acquisition, access to finance and value addition. The Programme is implemented in Cameroon, Guinea, Uganda, Zambia, Jamaica and Fiji with over forty countries benefiting from its regional capacity-building workshops.

In conclusion, low and lower-middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, with over 300 million extremely poor people expected to live in the most hazard-prone countries by 2030. Disasters impede progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. But, at the same time, locally sourced mineral-based reconstruction projects could be one sure way of generating employment and reducing poverty.