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Mines need to prioritise livelihoods

Restoring the livelihoods of households affected by resettlement is fraught with challenges, so it is vital that mining companies begin the process early and carefully monitor to see what is working and what is not.

According to SRK Consulting, it is only quite recently that livelihood restoration has become a focus of attention where households or communities are resettled for mining or industrial projects. Strategies to help restore livelihoods employed by mines are therefore often not well-proven, and the effort invested frequently does not deliver the results expected.

Jessica Edwards, senior social scientist at SRK Consulting

A Senior Social Scientist at SRK Consulting, Jessica Edwards, explained that in the past that companies treated the idea of livelihood as an afterthought. 

“However, this aspect has in the past often been an afterthought, attended to only towards the end of implementing a Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) – at which time it is already too late to achieve its intended purpose.”

Mines roles in the RAP

A RAP is called for when physical displacement takes place – meaning a loss of housing or shelter, which may also imply the loss of access to resources.

“Even where there is no physical displacement, there might still be economic displacement such as loss of access to land, standing crops or markets for selling crops. In these cases, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) requires a stand-alone Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP).”

Edwards said that most mining companies struggle with the notion of livelihood restoration.

“It is simply a field they are not well-equipped to tackle, as it involves rare skill-sets and successful case studies are limited or non-existent.” 

It is therefore probably no surprise that the IFC ranks livelihood restoration and improvement as “the most challenging aspect” of a resettlement programme. Among these challenges are finding livelihood environments that are familiar to the affected parties, and helping to create forms of income that are suitable to the area. The IFC guidelines on land acquisition and resettlement, which are regarded as industry good practice, require that mines and other developers include livelihood restoration measures in their RAPs. 

Adel Malebana, senior social scientist at SRK Consulting

A Senior Social Scientist at SRK Consulting, Adel Malebana explained that from their experience in South Africa, resettlement generally affected communities with high levels of poverty and reliance on social grants.

Malebana added that the tendency in resettlement projects has been, perhaps naturally, that the focus falls on the pressing issues around securing physical shelter.

“Eligibility criteria, compensation and the actual readiness of housing to accommodate resettled households or communities will usually be the priority areas.” 

Malebana further explained that this has resulted in livelihood restoration being considered as a secondary concern and is not addressed timeously. 

“The reality, though, is that when a person or household moves into their new environment, they already need to be earning a living; they cannot be left waiting for an LRP to be implemented.”

Malebana emphasised that the RAP and LRP ultimately have different processes that feed information into planning and reporting documents, and that livelihood-related strategy really needs to begin well in advance of any resettlement taking place. The RAP and LRP aligns in the sense that household baseline data collected as part of the RAP informs livelihood-related strategies and areas for intervention. However, the LRP must take this a step further and propose livelihood restoration initiatives that speak to the individual skills-sets and resources available to the affected parties.

“The separate processes must be addressed in their entirety, as the RAP and LRP have different but complementary purposes.”

Edwards notes that a solid baseline survey is important, as it provides the foundation from which to monitor the success of livelihood restoration efforts. Such a baseline would include indicators such as family size, sources of income, debt levels, skill levels and any recent changes in livelihoods. 

According to Edwards recent learnings include the failure of LRPs to plan for the loss of a breadwinner as a result of either retirement or ill-health. She added that these shortcomings will be seen more frequently due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Any livelihood restoration planning requires setting out actions very clearly, with intended results. Ongoing monitoring will pick up the gaps in outcomes so that the mine can interrogate where the plan is falling short and make changes or look for alternatives.”

She highlights that developing more effective strategies for livelihood restoration require a detailed understanding of the broader socio-economic circumstances of the area, and the formation of linkages with the municipalities’ local development plans – as well as other potential partnerships.

A practical response, according to Malebana, is to separate the resettlement planning and LRP tasks, allocating each one to a specialist service provider with specific and relevant skills and experience, to ensure that each task receives the attention it deserves. This, she said, could facilitate more proactive planning for livelihood restoration, allowing it to take place at the beginning of the resettlement planning process and not only after resettlement has been completed.

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