Mining: Zimbabwe’s Achilles’ heel

Zimbabwe’s ecological well-being remains in a precarious position.

But it is the problem of acid mine drainage (AMD) that may be its most perilous hazard in terms of its ramifications.

AMD refers to the phenomenon whereby underground, highly polluted, acidic water flows outwards onto the surface, often, in very high dosages from abandoned mines.

It is necessary to comprehend that ecologically, Zimbabwe is a country that is bereft of water security, while on the economic front, the country is driven by a strong mining industry, most notably gold, and lately diamonds.

The decade-long economic collapse ensured the burgeoning mining sector came to a standstill as firms closed their mines, as a result causing insurmountable environmental disaster for communities whose lives evolved around these mines.

One would think of Harare’s water source Lake Chivero, Zvishavane, Gwanda, Chiadzwa, Bindura, Nkayi, Kamativi, Mhangura, to name but a few places.

Fighting the scourge of AMD becomes not only a matter of environmental importance, but also one of protecting vulnerable local communities that depend upon the country’s finite natural resources.

The AMD scourge may place undue stress upon the country’s resources and industries, and potentially undermine the overall stability of the country.

The AMD scourge is a worldwide problem which the mining industry is grappling with. For example, Johannesburg is under threat from AMD so much that drinking water in one of Africa’s largest commercial cities is coloured, posing a health risk, not only to inhabitants, but visitors alike.

In many cases the responses by authorities have left many wondering whether there was any political will to eradicate the life-threatening scourge.

However, solving the AMD problem is stringently dependent upon effective governmental policy coordination.

The urgency of the dilemma thus compels the creation of a solution that will ascertain this problem be resolved both in its short-term as well as long-term capacity as the back-and-forth disagreements only bring the country closer to an irreversible ecological disaster.

The policy must be a catalyst for the ministries of Environment and Mines to get together and harmonise their processes.

In general, it is expected the mining industry would have to bear the brunt of the costs for the clean-up of the AMD dilemma as they are essentially responsible for the creation thereof.

But the government has been devoid in its ability to hold the mining industry accountable and provided little oversight of mining operations.

Zimbabwe is facing critical environmental challenges ranging from land degradation to the obliteration of finite resources.

It is pertinent to say in June alone, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) netted 320 environmental offenders in a blitz aimed at reducing emission of toxic material into the atmosphere and water in Manicaland.

At least 15 mines operating without approved environmental impact assessment (EIA) certificates have so far been fined in the blitz.

Many gold mines countrywide are operating without approved EIAs where an individual mine tries to predict the negative and positive impact of the mines and come up with mitigation measures for the negative impacts.

Thus far, the responses seem to remain alarmingly slow.

Moreover, the polluted water that arises from these abandoned mines is threatening communities that live along the disused mines around the country.

Ultimately, these two trends have become more precariously positioned in relation to one another over the last decade as a result of the spewing of highly acidic water into the country’s water systems, endangering communities as well as ecosystems.

This may place undue stress upon the country’s economy and water-strained environment, potentially undermining the agricultural sector.

Manyame Catchment Council expressed such concern about the impact of AMD that its effect upon the environment can be rated as second to the impact of ozone depletion, as well as global warming.

It is of utmost importance the government together with the mining sector create a coherent policy framework that will draw upon the initiatives of actors across a variety of sectors to mitigate this issue.

The country’s gold mining industry played a big role in creating some of the country’s most important historical milestones while shaping certain sectors of Zimbabwean society.

But with duration of time, some mines had begun to shut down as a result of the depletion of the finite resources found within them and the economic meltdown of the last decade.

With the abruption of mining activities, an ecological process began whereby water in these underground mines rose to its previous levels and came into contact with sulphide minerals, thus becoming highly acidic.

This water then reacts with other minerals, which in turn produce other pollutants in the water such as aluminium, lead, zinc, uranium, radium as well as bismuth.

The water that spews from these mines is essentially a toxic end-product of underground mining activities.

As this underground polluted water rises to the surface, it becomes part of the drinking water that is utilised by both the urban as well as agrarian population.

It appears as though an integrated policy framework is lacking when dealing with this dilemma.

As a result of these impacts of AMD on not only Zimbabwe’s communities, but also its natural ecosystem, it may be surmised these effects will persist.

Perhaps, not only in the near future, but for hundreds of years to come!
Email: millenniumzimbabwe@yahoo.com

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