The Church is supporting initiatives assisting miners dying of hunger in areas rich in natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was told by the head of a Church-backed miners’ co-operative that destitute mining communities have been exploited – receiving very little payment for the rare minerals and metals they extract from the ground.

Children and the elderly are among those forced to work in poor conditions using crude tools.

Despite the extreme poverty of its population, DRC is one of the world’s main exporters of numerous valuable natural resources, such coltan, cobalt and lithium.

The ongoing armed conflict and the government’s failure to stop the violence has led to a humanitarian crisis.

Prospective customers take advantage of workers’ misery, negotiating with starving people from a position of overwhelming strength, according to Patient Kizito Bahati, who founded the miners’ co-operative.

Mr Bahati said that miners are unaware of the value of their work and are therefore only paid a fraction of what they deserve.

Mr Bahati founded the Mining Cooperative of Artisanal Operators (COMIDEA), supported by the Church, to help workers stand up for their rights.

He said: “Many of them don’t have a cent to spare. When the buyer comes, they sell what they have as quickly as possible, so that they and their children can eat.”

Mr Bahati’s plan is to gather large amounts of the extracted materials and only sell them to buyers willing to pay appropriate prices, following the co-operative’s approval.

Those who cannot afford to wait for a reasonable offer can get an advance payment when leaving the minerals with the co-operative, Mr Bahati explained.

The Church is committed to ensuring that customers treat miners more fairly, and parish priests have been encouraging people to join the co-operative.

ACN is supporting the Diocese of Bukavu by helping to build churches and houses and providing training programmes to strengthen the Church’s presence in areas apparently forgotten by the government.