India is home to the largest concentration of artisanal and small scale miners (ASM) worldwide. According to the World Bank-funded Delve database, 15 million people based in the Asian country worked in this specific branch, followed by China with nine million ASM miners. Apart from these major contributing countries, ASM is most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, as our chart indicates.
When looking at the circumstances surrounding this specific branch of the mining sector, its focus on largely economically poorer areas comes as no surprise. In contrast to large scale mining operations, ASM is largely unregulated and can be undertaken with minor costs for machinery and expert labor. This, of course, invites a host of potential problems, from human and labor rights violations to corruption and environmental degradation. In the Peruvian rainforest, for example, mercury poisoning related to illegal ASM gold mining has produced levels "as high as those found in industrial regions in China" according to a recent paper published in the Nature Communications journal.
Programs like Delve aim to highlight these issues while proposing policy changes strengthening regulatory frameworks surrounding ASM and establishing it as a legitimate branch of the mining sector. According to the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development, 20 percent of the global supply of gold was generated by ASM miners in 2017 amounting to an estimated 630 tons. Overall, 150 million people across 80 countries depend on these types of largely informal mining operations to survive.