HomeNews‘Proposed copper mining project leads to human-wildlife conflict’

‘Proposed copper mining project leads to human-wildlife conflict’

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THE proposed and controversial open cast copper mining project in the Lower Zambezi National Park (LZNP), allegedly by a foreign company supported by some Zambian government ministries, will put at risk the Trans-Frontier Conservation Area (TFCA).

TONDERAYI MATONHO

Experts said this may lead to increased human-wildlife conflict in the Luangwa district, a renowned scientist and academic has said.

“The proposed project site is within the Middle Zambezi elephant corridor as well as the dispersal corridor for the endangered Africa wild dog and may lead to increased human-wildlife conflict in Luangwa district,” said Professor Chris Magadza at a stakeholders’ meeting recently in the capital, attended by Zambian Community-Based Natural Resources Management Forum (CBNRM).

“In addition, the LZNP provides an important breeding habitat for the African Pitta, an intra-Africa migrant bird that nests in the remnant low land deciduous thickets within LZNP and adjacent areas.”

The regional water expert and conservationist noted that proceeding with the project would not only severely impact the corridor for these endangered wildlife species through acid mine drainage. But also the operations may lead to significant displacement of these species into human community spaces.

The World Bank notes that acid mine drainage is one of the most serious and difficult problems associated with mining and has severe and permanent effects on the environment.Mercury from mining, lead, cadmium and arsenic acid poses serious threats to the aquatic organisms in the tributaries and river systems.

Magadza said: “Acid mine drainage is unavoidable. Whenever, sulphide rocks are mined and they are exposed to air and the water, they produce sulphuric acid. This in turn dissolves heavy metals in the rock leading to unsustainable natural resources utilisation.”

He added that mining created employment and provided a significant source of national income and foreign exchange for countries. But Magadza said as a development process based on a non-renewable resource, mines were only viable for a limited period and are then abandoned, requiring the writing off of all the capital invested.

“Many islands (countries) have mining ghost towns and rusting equipment that are the only remaining signs of brief periods of prosperity. When the mine closes, there is generally no one left to be legally or financially responsible for the long-term effects,” said Magadza.

He said the costs were left to the government and people.
“Often all that remains of the mine are the environmental problems and large areas of ruined land on islands that can ill afford to waste limited land resources.” said the water expert.

He noted that the solution to such long-term problems was to build environmental controls and provision for rehabilitation into the project from the beginning including the capital investment involved.
Against this background, the Zimbabwe Community-Based Natural Resources Management Forum (CBNRM) recently petitioned the Government of Zimbabwe through the Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, Saviour Kasukuwere, to lobby and advocate against such adverse and environmentally unfriendly development projects.

The petition, signed by more than 1 000 civil society groups and activists, is intended to let “the Zimbabwe Government engage the Zambian Government to collaborate on matters affecting the Lower Zambezi and come up with joint decisions since the area is in a Trans-Frontier Conservation Area and it is also a Biosphere Reserve on the Zimbabwean side”.

According to the Zambian representatives at the stakeholders meeting, Zambia was currently making efforts to raise its side of the area to a Biosphere Reserve status and thus such development projects will put at risk such elevation efforts.

The Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate through its permanent secretary, Prince Mupazviriho, recently acknowledged receipt of the petition. He said they were making procedures that have to be followed so as to communicate with relevant authorities in Zambia as the mining operation was being done from that side of the region.

Dr Cecil Machena, based at Mukuvisi Woodlands and coordinating the campaign against the mining operation, said they were also lobbying other regional states and their governments to stand up against the mining project.

“This is a regional issue and as a Forum we are approaching regional states like Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana, through our government to stop the mining operation,” Machena said.

The proposed copper mining site is opposite Mana Pools National Park, a world heritage site and a declared wetland zone under the Ramsar Convention. Media reports note that the Zambia Environment Management Agency is opposed to the mining activities.

In addition, the Zambian Environmental Impact Assessment opposed the proposal. Reports claim that the politicians were overriding all these studies and wants the project to go ahead.

At the recent stakeholders’ meeting in the capital, WWF Zambia and the Zambia CBNRM requested for support from civil society in Zimbabwe. Present at the meeting was the Zambezi Society, Campfire Association, and director of WWF Zambia who had come to brief them on the issue.

According to the CBNRM Forum, as the area is a trans-frontier conservation area, the roads to ferry the copper for smelting in the Copper Belt will open up the area and create a ribbon of unsustainable development contrary to sustainable tourism which is currently a hub for the region.

Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Act (CAP 20:27) Section 113) states that “the minister may declare any wetland or biosphere to be an ecologically sensitive area and may impose limitations of development in or around such an area”.

Yet, in January 2014, Zambia’s then Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection over-ruled the objection by the Zambia’s Environmental Management Agency, the Zambian Ministry of Tourism, the traditional leaders, communities, stakeholders and independent experts and allowed the project to go ahead.

Experts fear that if biospheres and wetland bodies, such as the Mana Pools Reserve were not protected and preserved and properly managed, the country faces a future where animal life and water systems would be heavily polluted or simply disappear.

On May 3 2013, Zimbabwe acceded to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an “inter-governmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources”.

This resulted in seven of Zimbabwe’s wetlands, namely, Monavale Vlei, Victoria Falls National Park, Mana Pools National Park, Cleveland Dam, Chinhoyi Caves, Driefontein Grasslands and Lake Chivero being designated as Ramsar sites. However, so far ratifying the treaty has not yet translated to better management of the country’s wetlands and biospheres.

Mana Pools Biosphere Nature Reserve is a major tourist area and tourism’s contribution to national income currently ranks third after mining and agriculture. Its contribution to government revenues is significant and its earnings account for about 10% of all export of goods and services, making the sector the third biggest foreign exchange earner after mining and agriculture.

Experts continue to ask how the Government of Zimbabwe will react to this emerging negative regional scenario. Will they endorse the petition by the CBNRM Forum and its key stakeholders and engage its Zambian counterparts?

Furthermore, and interestingly, was this focus on mining and capital expansion appropriate for ecological sustainability and disaster preparedness contexts? And what are the limits?

There is a general consensus that trans-frontier nature reserves and conservancies need to be evaluated and a monetary value placed on each of them and thus become more safe with a harmonisation of national and regional policies and an enforcement of legislations.

Experts noted that the proposed move to establish an environmental court in Zimbabwe that would prosecute environmental offenders needs to be speeded up and there is need too to establish similar regional courts to add the much needed impetus and urgency in discouraging such practices.

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