World Bank to unveil project to map Africa’s minerals

Africa Mining
Copyright: Flickr/AK Rockefeller

Speed read

  • Africa’s huge minerals potential is largely unexplored due to lack of data
  • The World Bank is championing a US$1 billion project to map Africa’s minerals
  • An expert calls for governments to invest in new technologies to aid mining

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[NAIROBI] The World Bank is launching a US$1 billion fund to map Africa’s minerals to promote their exploration, a conference has heard.
Although Africa is rich in mineral resources, it remains one of the most under-explored landmasses on earth, creating a huge skills gap and thus justifying the need to commission a massive geo-exploration of its mineral potential, says Paulo de Sa, the manager of the gas, oil and mining unit of the World Bank’s Sustainable Energy Department.
According to De Sa, who made the five-year initiative — dubbed the Billion Dollar Map —  known at the 20th Investing in African Mining Indaba in South Africa last month (3-6 February), the bank is committing US$200 million to the fund and hopes that African governments, donor agencies and mining companies will provide the remaining US$800 million.

“The lack of geological data poses a barrier for companies to select a specific country as a mining destination.”
Paulo de Sa, The World Bank

“The lack of geological data poses a barrier for companies to select a specific country as a mining destination,” says De Sa, citing Africa’s lack of application of technologies as contributing to the lack of such data.
He adds that satellite and “airborne technologies” including geographical information systems (GIS) will be widely deployed in the continent's first-ever comprehensive technology-driven exploration mission. A substantial amount of the funding will be used for the acquisition and application of the technologies.
“We do expect an important part of the investment to go towards information systems and data management hardware such as servers and IT [information technology] platforms, cloud storage, and different types of remote sensing data,” De Sa tells SciDev.Net.
De Sa explains that the mapping process will include the integration of a number of datasets that will help identify likely mineral deposits.
Erick Khamala, the managing director of LocateIT, a Kenya-based company specialising in remote sensing technologies welcomes the move to undertake the project.
“Technology in the area of mineral mapping is advancing quite fast and is becoming more precise and cost-effective,” says Khamala.
But Khamala faults failure by African governments to budget for technology despite the many advantages it offers such as its potential in helping to locate transport networks, settlements, drainage and land cover.
Khamala cites some technologies that can be used in such a venture, including aerial photography and videography, satellite remote sensing, unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, crowd-sourcing using mobile phone and GIS for data capture.
De Sa concurs, adding that besides helping locate minerals, technologies could also help in water management, land use planning, infrastructure and biodiversity planning. 
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.