Most mainstream news stories about the coal industry paint a very negative picture. From extraction to combustion, coal is seen as a dirty and often dangerous business: an industry of the past, long overdue for extinction. It was, then, with happy surprise that I read an article from the BBC describing the positive impact the coal boom in Mozambique is having on the lives of ordinary people.1
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Until recently, the town of Tete, capital of Tete province, was a fairly sleepy place. But coal has changed that. With some of the world’s richest untapped coal reserves located in the province, the region has become a focus of mining investment, attracting two of the largest mining companies in the world: Rio Tinto and Vale, both of which are pumping billions of dollars into developing mines in the Moatize basin. And where money goes, people follow. Tete’s population has trebled in last few years – not only pulling in workers from all over Mozambique, but countries throughout southern Africa, and even as far afield as Brazil.
Three mine workers interviewed by the BBC tell the story. They have come to Tete from different parts of Mozambique and acknowledge that working in the mines is not easy, but all were clear that the jobs provided by the mining boom help them to provide for their families. “Tete offered me an opportunity which I seized with both hands,” one is quoted as saying.
Another interviewee captures the optimism mining investment has brought to Tete. Francisco Purara works as HR manager for Ncondezi Coal and moved to Tete in 2006. “I have three children,” he told the BBC. “They’re all in a private school. It’s because of what I earn in Tete that I can afford to pay for their studies. My wife is also at university […] I’m an example of what is happening here; it’s a life changer. I hope that, in the future, my children will work here and contribute to Tete’s development.”
This coal industry is not an industry of the past. Year by year it gets cleaner and safer. There may always be room for improvements – no industry is perfect – but it still has much to be proud of in terms of lifting people out of poverty and improving the quality of life for the poorest around the world. These are the stories that are not often told, but should not be forgotten – an inconvenient truth for those that would see the coal industry consigned to the history books.
1. KEANE, J., “Mozambique town transformed by coal rush”, BBC News (22 October 2012). Accessed at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-20024326 (2 November 2012). Mozambique will also be the focus the regional report in next month’s issue of World Coal.