Coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo

by Stephanie Guiffrida, , April 26, 2010

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What is coltan? Coltan, which is short for columbite-tantalite, is a dull black metallic ore mineral. Along with the ethnic war occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), some of the conflict is motivated by possession of mineral resources. When coltan is refined it becomes a heat resistant powder that can hold a high electric charge. Refined coltan is a vital element found in many consumer objects, such as cell phones, computer chips, DVD players, video games, pacemakers, hearing aids, camera lenses, and x-ray film. Because most of these goods are used in everyday life, the demand for this mineral has increased immensely over the years.

The Democratic Republic of Congo produces a little less than 1% of the world's coltan. So why is coltan such an issue in the DRC? According the to UN Security Council report, coltan is illegally mined and smuggled into the Democratic Republic of Congo by militias from neighboring countries (Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi), resulting in approximately 64-80% of the world's coltan. Smuggling coltan over the country's eastern borders has become a large source of income for the militia. This increase of illegal mining of coltan also affects the environment along with its contribution to the war in the DRC. Lakes and rivers are becoming polluted causing organisms to die, affecting the food chain, and also an increase of erosion of land.

How does this affect our lives? We as consumers, participate in this war by simply using our cell phone everyday, or buying any of the other products containing coltan. The more we buy, the more coltan the DRC will be illegally mined, allowing the war over minerals to continue to occur. It is not realistic to tell each and every person to stop using their cell phone or DVD players to help end the war. On the other hand even though we cannot stop the illegal mining we can be more aware of the issues that affect other countries.



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