US President Joe Biden has boldly announced his country’s return to global citizenship with his decision, as the Wall Street Journal describes it, “to give 500 million Pfizer shots to poor countries.”
In many of these countries, mining companies great or small are active, and engaged in winning from their host communities the “license to operate”, so often vitally necessary to those communities as well as to the companies.
And, particularly in Africa and Asia, many communities are now struggling to survive the covid-19 pandemic which has galvanized President Biden to act.
His action should trigger a supportive, and vital, action by the mining industry.
Here’s how and why. Cyrus Sinai and Rob Fetter, writing in Energy Post, starkly direct us to the reality facing mass vaccination.
The Pfizer vaccine is undoubtedly very effective, but, like its Moderna counterpart, it is temperature sensitive. Yes, it can be stored at between minus 25 Celsius and minus 15 Celsius for up to two weeks. Any longer and it will require a temperature of minus 70 Celsius. A cold-chain equipped facility is not a common find in much of Africa and Asia.
Research shows that, in Africa, 50% of freeze dried and 25% of liquid vaccines are wasted due to unreliable power for storage.
In fact, a pre-covid 2013 review focused on 11 African countries found that only 28% of clinics and hospitals had reliable electricity, and 26% had no electricity at all.
Now, during this pandemic, it is unreasonable to think that national grids across Africa, not to mention Asia, can quickly be overhauled to ensure the safety of President Biden’s gift, or, indeed, the millions of doses from Covax which are now arriving in Africa.
Last year, the vaccine alliance, Gavi, got behind the provision of solar-powered refrigeration in the DRC. This had an immediate impact in the very poorest provinces, and on the people living there.
Solar power can, and must be used to ensure the safe storage of the vaccines, and assist in their rapid uptake by the people. And mining companies, their associations and their investors, can make this happen.
Responsible Mining does not just mean avoiding mine-site disasters, such as tailings dam breaches, or reducing worker accidents, it has to mean earning community support, and getting vaccines into outstretched arms is vital for communities.
Few industrial sectors can compete with mining when the need is to overcome a complex technical problem. Its leaders can show that the industry can stand up and be counted when the problem is technical, human, and hugely ethical.
Mining can turn to solar power refrigeration and make it happen.
When covid-19 first emerged and placed its gruesome demands on humanity, took our breath away, the formula one racing companies speedily turned to producing ventilators.
We are now nearing the finish line, and miners can take us across it.
John Harker has acted as consultant in challenging situations involving the mining industry across the globe, sustained by his heritage as the grandson of two opposites, one a mine manager and Methodist lay preacher, the other a miners union leader at the mine and village bookie on the weekends.