Our mining companies' responsibility to the Congo

By Dr. Keith Martin MD, The National Post - October 27, 2009
If ever there was a hell on earth, then surely it is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A staggering 1,000 people die every day from largely preventable causes in this forgotten corner of the African continent, and more than 6-million people have perished in the last eight years alone. In some communities, a shocking 70% of the women have been subjected to extreme sexual violence; gang raped or violated with bayonets and other sharp objects, causing death or lifelong disabilities.

The DRC is home to the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe since the Second World War, yet it has received scant attention from the international community. The conflict is complex. It is partly rooted in disputes over land ownership, but mostly it is a battle for the vast natural resources the region possesses. Diamonds, gold and rare minerals are plentiful. However, few of these minerals are more important than coltan, an essential element that is used in the production of the computers, cell phones and other electronic equipment that are a ubiquitous part of our lives.

Interestingly, many of the mining companies operating in this region are Canadian.

In the midst of this turmoil is the HEAL Africa hospital, which was started in 1993 by Congolese orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Jo Lusi and his wife Lyn. It is the most prominent institution working against sexual violence in the DRC, and is the only recognized tertiary referral hospital for the more than 5-million people who live in the midst of this disaster.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the hospital and held a press conference there during her recent official visit to Africa. She witnessed the extraordinary work the hospital is doing to repair the traumatic fistulas that women sustain when they are raped, to treat the victims of machete and gunshot wounds, and to care for those affected by the myriad diseases that are curable if treated, and fatal if not. Yet despite their extraordinary record of service, the hospital is in dire need of funding to expand its facilities and train the health care workers who are providing essential care in the rural areas.

The monies required are modest. The total amount that is needed to provide better maternal, infant and emergency care is $1.4-million.

A meager $5,400 per year for three years will train a physician who will work in this grossly underserved area. All of this will help a patient base that exceeds 5-million people.

Several months ago, I wrote to the Canadian mining companies working in the Congo and asked them to contribute some monies for the HEAL Africa project. Providing some of these monies would be a modest act of corporate social responsibility. Given the profits these companies are earning in the midst of this suffering, such a donation shouldn't be much of a sacrifice. So far none of the following company leaders have even acknowledged receipt of the letter:

-Philip K.R. Pascall, Chairman and CEO, First Quantum Minerals Ltd.

-Lukas H. Lundin, Chairman, Lundin Mining Corporation

-Michael Newbury, President and CEO, Simberi Mining Corporation

-Tony Harwood, President and CEO, Africo Resources Ltd.

-Alexander MacPhee, President and CEO, SouthernEra Diamonds Inc

Canadian mining companies have a responsibility to help the Congolese people who are paying the price in the battle for their natural resources, and who live in the midst of the operations that generate the profits these firms enjoy. It would be a clear demonstration of corporate social leadership if these companies took advantage of the opportunity that has been presented to them to make life saving resources available to those enduring the cruelest, yet most neglected humanitarian disaster in the world.

Dr. Keith Martin is a physician and the Member of Parliament for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca. He has done extensive humanitarian work in Africa. He is also the founder of the Canadian Physicians Overseas Program, which sends doctors to developing countries to augment their health care capabilities.