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I recently read an article about some of the perceived damaging social impacts of the diamond mining industry. It was riddled with inaccuracies and poorly researched data that appeared to be written solely to cast a negative shadow on our industry. I have personally witnessed a very different side to diamonds, and have seen firsthand how it can transform individuals, communities, and entire countries in very positive ways.
For many, it is easy and convenient to jump on the bandwagon and slander the diamond business. Unless those of us in the industry stand up and speak out against those in the media who seek to vilify an industry they know little or nothing about, consumers will continue to read these messages and avoid purchasing diamonds, or will perhaps shift their purchases to lab-grown alternatives. The diamond industry employs an estimated ten million people around the world, and openly calling for diamond mining to cease, as some influential individuals have done, would be catastrophic for the livelihoods of a great number of hard-working people. I feel compelled to show my readers, most of whom are employed within the industry themselves, just how wrong many of these detractors are. Let’s take a closer look at some of the very positive impacts that diamonds have had in the world.
Millions of people have access to healthcare thanks to diamonds
According to diamondfacts.org, more than five million people in Africa have access to healthcare as a direct result of government budgets from diamond revenues. This figure doesn’t take into consideration how many more millions have access to good healthcare in diamond exporting nations. Namibia now has more than three nurses per 1,000 citizens, a figure that puts the country in better standing than some European nations, and exceeds the standards of the World Health Organization.
Dr. Lesedinyana Odiseng, a consultant in occupational medicine and specialist sports physician, has written extensively about the state of affairs in his native country of Botswana, both before and after the discovery of diamonds. A trip to the doctor used to involve a lengthy and treacherous trip in an ox-pulled wagon, where one would spend days waiting to be seen by a travelling doctor. Many died while waiting. Now, Botswana has state-of-the-art clinics and hospitals around the country, including in remote villages and in under-populated regions.
Diamond revenue is helping African nations to combat HIV/AIDS
The challenge of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is immense, to say the least. However, some of the worst-affected countries are showing good progress in stemming the spread of the disease, as a direct result of government initiatives financed by diamond revenues. For example, Botswana has one of the highest HIV rates in the world, with more than 20% of the adult population affected. However, a 2002 pilot antiretroviral treatment program has blossomed into one of the most successful programs of its kind in Africa. The program is unique in that it is universal, meaning all citizens have access to it, and it is free to all. Botswana is now close to reaching UN targets for treatment, including those in the most remote areas of the country, and infection rates have been declining steadily.
Several sub-Saharan countries struggling with HIV/AIDS, like Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, have been able to implement programs which include both education and access to needed medicine, to begin to reverse HIV/AIDS rates in these areas. Most notably, rates of the disease are declining significantly amongst younger people, and this bodes well for future generations looking to eradicate the disease.
Conflict diamonds have been driven to virtually zero
No one can deny that diamonds have historically been used by unscrupulous people to achieve devastating ends. The evidence of atrocities in countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d'Ivoire will stand indefinitely as a stain on humanity. However, the implementation of the Kimberley Process and the global attention placed on the issue of conflict diamonds has helped to virtually eradicate the problem. Conflict diamonds now represent much less than 1% of the entire industry’s trade, and importing nations like Belgium, UAE, USA, and Israel have placed strict controls on diamond imports that seek to go even further than the Kimberley Process.
There are still those who illegally mine diamonds and smuggle them for personal gain, just as there is a small fringe group in virtually every industry who will seek to profit from illegal activity. But the problem of diamonds being used to finance war and terror is now well in hand, and getting better every day.
Diamonds employ an estimated 10 million people around the world
At a retail level, diamonds generate more than $70 billion in annual revenues. This helps to pay the salaries of an estimated 10 million people around the world, in virtually every country on the planet. These figures include both direct employment, such as miners, cutters, jewelry manufacturers, and retailers, and also many secondary market suppliers, such as security, technology, tools and equipment of all kinds, etc.
Some of the world’s poorest countries have gained the most jobs. In many sub-Saharan African countries, diamonds can represent as much as 50% of a country’s national revenue, and can provide employment to hundreds of thousands of people. In India, the diamond trading and manufacturing industry employs more than a million people. The city of Surat, India alone employs some 600,000 people in diamonds.
Diamonds have transformed entire countries
If someone wants to see the direct positive impacts of diamonds, they need look no further than Botswana. Diamonds were first discovered there in 1967, just a few months after the country gained its independence from Britain. Prior to diamond mining, Botswana was one of the poorest countries on the planet, with a per capita GDP of about $70 according to the World Bank. In fact, it had only 12 kilometers of paved roads in a country roughly the size of Spain .
Since then, Botswana has been transformed into one of the most robust countries in Africa. In fact, Botswana’s economy has been growing at an average annual rate of 8% since independence, making it the third fastest-growing economy in the world over that period . It now ranks as one of the highest-rated countries in the world in terms of the economic freedom of its citizens, even higher than countries like Norway and Israel .
While Botswana’s economy remains largely dependent on diamond revenues, successive governments have used those revenues responsibly to build critical infrastructure, and to develop new industries and tourism within the country, to diminish its dependence on mining. One visit to the capital city of Gaborone shows a rapidly-developing city, where citizens enjoy a standard of living that would have been unimaginable to their parents and grandparents.
Botswana spends as much as 9% of its GDP on education, providing a free education system to its people. While rural poverty levels are still high, the country has gone from more than one in two people living in poverty at independence, to fewer than one in five today, with those rates declining every year. The country serves as an example to all other countries in the world on how to utilize resource wealth for the betterment of a population.
I do have to admit that in some parts of the world, unscrupulous people continue to use diamonds as a means to control people and to fuel malicious goals. However every industry in the world is beset with a small fringe element of people, who seek to bend the rules without a sense of consequence to their fellow man. For example, there are some in the world who profit from the illegal procurement and sale of human organs. Can anyone suggest that we should no longer offer human organ transplants, which save the lives of millions of people globally every year? Of course not.
The diamond industry has been overhauled in the last 20 years in response to many challenges that it has faced. It has evolved into a more transparent and ethical industry that has far more scrutiny applied to it than ever before. It is dominated at several levels by large corporations with strict requirements around employment and environmental standards.
In my opinion, we have succeeded tremendously well in stamping out some of the problems of the past, and the future looks very bright. Those who can blindly call out an industry that employs millions of people for the misdeeds of a few should really do some fact checking first. Or maybe go have a latte in Gaborone?
The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity. No one should act upon any opinion or information in this website without consulting a professional qualified adviser.