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How successful are mines’ efforts to restore livelihoods?

Restoring the livelihoods of households affected by resettlement is fraught with challenges, so it is vital that mines 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.

“Livelihood restoration has become an increasingly critical element of a company’s resettlement action plan,” said Jessica Edwards, a senior social scientist at SRK Consulting. “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.”

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 livelihoods resources.

“Even where there is no physical displacement, there might still be economic displacement, ”said Chanel McCall, SRK Consulting social scientist, “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).”

Most mining companies struggle with the notion of livelihood restoration, said Edwards. “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,” she said.

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.

“Our experience in South Africa shows that resettlement generally affects communities with high levels of poverty and reliance on social grants,” said Adel Malebana, SRK Consulting senior social scientist. “This makes it even more difficult for them to adjust to new livelihoods, in terms of their education levels, skills, mindsets and attitudes.”

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

“Eligibility criteria, compensation and the actual readiness of housing to accommodate resettled households or communities will usually be the priority areas,” she said. “As a result, livelihood restoration is considered as secondary 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.”

McCall emphasised that the RAP and LRP ultimately have different processes that feed information into planning and reporting documents, and those livelihood-related strategies need to begin well in advance of any resettlement taking place. The RAP and LRP align 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,” she said.

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. “Recent learnings include the failure of LRPs to plan for the loss of a breadwinner as a result of either retirement or ill-health. We are likely to see this shortcoming more frequently amidst the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

“Any livelihood restoration planning requires setting out actions very clearly, with intended results,” she said. “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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