2 July 2012

Zambia: Lower Zambezi Mine Project Debate Rages

AN Australian firm, Mwembeshi Resources Limited intends to establish a multi-million dollar open pit mine in Kangaluwi in Chief Mburuma's area in Luangwa District in Lusaka rural but this move has been met with some resistance from some quarters of the community.

The local people who mainly derive their livelihood from the nature surrounding them feel that putting up an open pit mine would have negative consequences on the environment including the wild animals.

The company which is a subsidiary of the Zambezi Resources Limited wants to develop a large-scale open pit copper mine with a capital cost estimated of US$494.6 million.

The investor projects to produce 15 million tonnes of copper per annum when the mine is fully operational.

According to Mwembeshi Resources country executive chairperson Willie Sweta the capital is expected to be used for exploration, feasibility studies, mine development, equipment, mill infrastructure, tailings, power supply, working capital and reclamation.

Mr Sweta revealed that during the construction stage, 500 local people are expected to be employed while during operations 300 others will be employed on full time basis.

The firm spent US$12 million on the project since the granting of a licence in 2003.

Although the project is scheduled for Senior Chief Mburuma's area, in essence it would also affect the residents of two other chiefdoms, Chiawa and Mpuka.

Those who have supported the idea are of the view that the project would trigger development in the area by opening up that part of the country to other investment opportunities for the betterment of the local community.

The project, however, has met resistance from some local people as well as the civil society organisations because it is likely to negatively impact the environment and the tourism sector.

Located in the Lower Zambezi National Park, the project has sparked a heated debate on whether it should go ahead or not with the antagonists saying that it would lead to environmental degradation and affect the tourist resorts in the area among many other things.

An environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been conducted and most of the residents who turned up to make submissions especially in Chief Chiawa's area have rejected the project vowing to defend their treasured environment.

The purpose of the assessment report is to ensure that decision makers consider the ensuing environmental impacts when deciding whether to proceed with the project in issue or not.

In this case, a report was compiled on the possibilities of having a mining project in the lower Zambezi National Park.

A final decision has not yet been made by relevant authorities concerning the matter as feedback was still being awaited from the public hearing which was held concerning the results of the EIA.

And it is for this reason that a proposal of having a mining project in a national park; its effects on the environment in this case should be seriously taken into consideration in view of the effects of climate change during the decision-making process.

The EIAs do not require adherence to a predetermined environmental out-come, but rather they require decision makers to account for environmental values in their decisions and to justify those decisions in the light of detailed environmental studies and public comments.

But in as much as the country needs more jobs, accelerated development in all corners, it is rather prudent that mining activities are done in areas where they would have less environmental impacts to avoid causing much harm to environment.

Allowing mining to take place in the lower Zambezi would not be best of the ideas as the area earmarked for is right in the national park, which is home to wildlife which is also a major contributor to the growing tourism industry.

The degradation of the natural environment in the Lower Zambezi National Park which provides a sanctuary for wildlife would not only disturb the animals but ultimately destroy tourism industry.

With over 400 bird species, the Lower Zambezi is a huge bird sanctuary which is just a marvel to watch.

With 25 years expected life span, if constructed the mine is likely to do more harm than good in that area.

Looking at the location where this project is proposed to be construction, there is no doubt that people would have different views over the matter.

After submitting the EIA report by the developer of the mine to the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), two public hearings were held, one in Chiawa and the other one in Luangwa District.

From the debate it was clear that there were two interest groups with different tangible reasons over the project.

Interestingly, a good number of residents in Chiawa expressed displeasure at the project saying that the location was not good enough and that animals in the nation park would go astray or would be scattered posing a danger to human life.

Residents noted that once the mine starts its operations about 800 jobs in the hospitality industry would be lost due to the fact that it is these same lodges within the park which would be disturbed or displaced.

"Once this project starts tourism will be killed and jobs will be lost because tourists will stop coming here as there will be no more animals and birds to watch and the land allocated to the project if it comes to fruition will not be good enough for sustenance of wildlife or agriculture due to chemical and other contagious contaminates," they said.

This mine is short term and tourism is long term if not forever. All we need is increased investment in the sector which would open this area to more tourism business.

They said promoting tourism was the way to go if the area was to develop, as it would in the long run conserve the environment, wildlife and other tourism potentials.

Other concerns were on the fact that the project would include the construction of a copper sulphide concentrator, tailings storage facility, waste rock dump, maintenance workshops and other associated facilities.

It is important to note that the copper concentrate from the mining operations would be transported by road using 30 tonne-trucks from the project area to already existing smelters at Chambeshi Copper Mine and Mopani Copper Mine for final extraction and refining of copper metal.

The company would be transporting about 160 tonnes daily which would require about six trips per day with a 30-tonne truck.

During the transportation of the copper concentrates it is most likely that there would be a transfer of tsetse flies in the area as it was highly prone to the insects which could cause sleeping sickness.

The other important point to note is that the mining project will be in Senior Chief Mburuma's area but has borders with other senior chiefs among them Chief Mpuka and Chieftainess Chiawa.

It is from this background that most residents in Chiawa are not in support of the project as it was not directly in their vicinity, but would be directly affected by its placement in one way or the other.

The controversy raged on and it is for this reason that Chietainess Chiawa pleaded with her subjects to allow the project go on.

She said that she was for the idea that the mine be constructed in the national park as it would develop the area.

"My people I am begging you let this project go on, it will benefit us all, but one thing we should know is that it will not be able to attend to each of our problem," she said.

And Chief Mpuka said that the mining project was welcome as it would create employment opportunities for the locals.

He argued that the tourism sector in the area had not contributed much to the wellbeing of the people.

"This idea of saying when the mine starts operating about 800 jobs will be lost is not there, these investors in the tourism sector have contributed almost nothing to the well-being of the people and this is as far as I am concerned," he said.

Chief Mburuma insisted that the mine would be constructed in Luangwa as it was the only viable project the district would depend on for its development.

He said that Luangwa was among the less developed districts in the country thus the coming of the mine was a relief to huge unemployment levels.

"You people I don't know what you are trying to achieve, I am the owner of the land being talked about here, the mine will be in my chiefdom so what I will say is final and this is it, this mine is welcome, and you developers don't listen to what other people are saying just be ready the mine will be opened," he said.

Luangwa District Commissioner Eunie Mumba and his counterpart Maxwell Shamalimba of Chirundu and Feira Member of Parliament Patrick Ngoma were in full support of the project.

But the two meetings which were held showed that most people did not understand the role of the civil society groups that attended the hearings.

It was and is still the perception of the local people that the civil society is the one in the forefront of rejecting the project when in actual fact their concerns were mainly on the impact of the mine to the environment and the people at large.

This heated debate clearly showed that most people did not understand the role of civil society organisations and there was need for sensitisation.

Despite the wrong perception by locals of civil society they had their say on the matter arguing that mining in the Lower Zambezi National Park should not be allowed because it is a protected area of biodiversity significance and a habitat for various species of national importance.

Allowing mining in Lower Zambezi National Park which is among the most preferred tourist destination would also destroy the tourism industry in the area.

Lower Zambezi National Park provides a natural habitat for species of national importance which are endangered and threatened by human foot-print such as the African elephant, African wild dog including various bird and plant species.

Representing the civil societies, Mr Vincent Ziba said the intended open pit mining project in Kangaluwi would drive animals from the national park and increase their vulnerability to poaching.

Noise from blasting activities would drive away animals from the national park into human settlements and fields thereby increasing poaching and that would lead to human-animal conflicts.

The pollution of fresh-water in the rivers such as Luangwa, Zambezi and Kafue would kill the fish and other species thereby destroying the source of revenue for many people in the Lower Zambezi River who are dependant on the fishing industry.

They said that copper is toxic to aquatic life such as fish, high levels of copper in water for domestic use would also affect the health of people not only in Zambia and Lower Zambezi but also in the neighbouring countries which shares borders with Zambia.

He said that the fact that Lower Zambezi forms a uranium belt is another cause for concern. Copper with traces of radon, a radioactive gas from uranium would destroy aquatic life in the rivers and streams and would be a health hazard for people.

Apart from the destruction of the forestry cover and alteration of the topology of the area, copper mining is likely to pollute both ground and surface water as a result of acid rock drainage.

"Our mission is to ensure that human beings live in harmony with nature also to ensure the well-being of people and their livelihoods," he said.

Among the present civil societies in attendance were World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Community based Natural Resources Management Forum, Action Aid International Zambia, World Vision and Bird Watch Zambia.

He made it clear that civil societies also supported developmental issues and that they were not against the development but only strive to ensure that any investment or project provides a win -win situation for the economy, the social well-being of people and the environment.

Mr Ziba said that any undertaking which puts economic development at the expense of people's health and the environment is not beneficial in the long term.

We support sustainable development by ensuring that there is a balance on the social, economy and the environment in any developmental project for the benefit of all.

Mr Ziba said that vision is to stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.

"The organisation hopes to ensure that our generation passes this planet to the future generations by conserving our biodiversity, ensuring that the use of our natural resources is sustainable and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption," he said.

When all has been said about the impending project for and against, the onus remains with the decision makers to chart the way forward as to whether the project should take off or not.

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