LUSAKA. — Mining, and copper mining in particular, has long been the powerhouse of the economy of Zambia, a land-locked country in southern Africa, with copper amounting to 75-85 percent of the country’s exports, according to official figures.But at what cost? Millions in exports, and thousands of jobs, but what if the people’s very source of life is being compromised, in the form of polluted water?
Boyd Muleya (49), an ex-miner in Chingola, a city in Zambia’s Copperbelt province, complains of mining companies not only polluting the source of water, but also denying people the right to fresh water and a clean environment, accusing the government of doing little to protect the people from mining firms endangering lives.
Muleya told Anadolu Agency that families living in places that see extensive mining are facing serious health challenges from water, food, and air pollution due to mining activities.
“The government has done little or nothing to protect the rights of people not only to good health, but also to living in a clean environment and access to fresh running water,” said Muleya.
The Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), an independent environmental regulator and coordinating established through an act of parliament, has accused mining companies of polluting the Kafue River, the main source of drinking water for communities in the north-central Copperbelt province, Zambia’s second-largest by population, aptly named for the minerals in its soil.
Earlier this month ZEMA spokesman Irene Lungu-Chipili told journalists that it is investigating seven mining companies believed to be responsible for discharging effluents into the Mwambishi stream, a tributary of the Kafue, the longest river situated wholly inside Zambia.
“We have written to seven mining firms, including Mopani Copper Mine (MCM), Konkola Copper Mine (KCM), and Non-Ferrous Copper Mine (NFCM) to inform them of the development.”
“At this point, we have not yet determined which company is polluting the river,” she added.
Chipili indicated all seven mining concerns on the Copperbelt are considered responsible for discharging effluents into the Mwambashi, leading to the pollution of the Kafue.
“As a result of this pollution, the Nkana Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC) was forced to shut down its plant that supplies water to Copperbelt communities.”
The shutdown of water plants of the Copperbelt towns of Kitwe, Kalulushi, Chambishi, and Chingola was confirmed by Bivan Saluseki, spokesman for the water company.
One Copperbelt resident expressed fear that using water from the Kafue is not yet safe.
“Since the water was polluted, we have resorted to collecting drinking water from shallow pit wells and watercourses for home use, including washing clothes and cooking,” Marble Chibale told Anadolu Agency.
“As for drinking water, we beg our friends who have boreholes (to underground wells), and they let us draw it for a fee,” she added.
Under Zambian law, environmental management is a vital component of mining, and all mining firms are obliged to prepare detailed environmental impact assessments indicating how they will minimise environmental problems such as air and water pollution. Errant companies face prosecution, fines, or the cancellation of their operating licenses. — Anadolu Agency. .