Yup, we just can't be without those irritating pieces of electronic wizardry. Whether it be the one that you want to shove down the throat of that guy on the train broadcasting his conversation through to the one your daughter spends more time texting on than you do trying to get into the washroom. There is no denying that cell phones have had a trans formative effect on our society but at what cost?
I'm not talking about the cost within our own insular little world but rather the blood that is being spilt to bring some of the rawest materials needed to make these contraptions work in the first place. You see there is a part of every cell phone that needs a single raw material which right now sees 60% of it coming from one place in the world. This raw material is called Coltan and when processed it becomes a heat resistant powder called metallic tantalum which has unique properties for storing electrical charge. As a result it is a vital component in the capacitors used to control current flow in the circuit boards of that cell phone stuck to your ear.
Of the 525 tons of tantalum used in the US in 1998 60% was used in these capacitors and there is expected to be a 14% per annum growth in the need for this product. The problem is that the Coltran we use in this process comes from place only - the Congo and its value is greatly affected by our increasing use of technology and with the increasing use of cell phones a raw material that was once worth $65.00 per kilo saw the price reach the dizzying heights of $600 per kilo before settling back down to $100.00; where it currently sits.
Because this is such a valuable natural resource the sale of it is being used by the various fraction in the on-going civil war in the Congo
A recent report by the UN has claimed that all the parties involved in the local civil war have been involved in the mining and sale of Coltan. One report suggested that the neighboring Rwandan army made US$250 million from selling Coltan in less than 18 months, despite there being no Coltan in Rwanda to mine. The military forces of Uganda and Burundi are also implicated in smuggling Coltan out of Congo for resale in Belgium.
As well the mining of Coltan is located in the area as the Kahuzi Biega National Park which is the home of the Mountain Gorilla and because of this mining the gorilla population has been decimated. Whether it be from starvation because the mining is removing their habitat or from being shot to feed the people doing the mine this need for Coltan has a growing effect on both the people and the animals of the Congo.
Here is a news report on coltan mining
But hey... you got a really cool cell phone out of the deal eh.
[hat tip to Tom Foremski]