Saturday, 31 December 2016

Diseases Increase, Fish Die As Pollution Continues In Chingola

Sandwell Sinyangwe pointing at the polluted Shimulala stream
By Paul Shalala in Chingola

Pollution in the copper mining town of Chingola is not a new story.

For decades, this town has been suffering for indiscriminate pollution of its streams and now residents are fed up.

Chingola hosts Konkola Mine and Nchanga Open Pit mines which are run by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), a Vedanta-owned firm.

On Friday, over 100 Chingola residents met at Protea Hotel to complain about pollution and give evidence of the effects of the problem.

Their complaints follow last week's comments by Chingola Mayor Titus Tembo in which he indicated that KCM had polluted streams in the town.

"KCM has polluted the Mushishima stream killing fish. Because of poverty, our people are eating the dead fish and some have become sick," said Mr Tembo when Mines Minister Christopher Yaluma paid a courtesy call on him on Thursday last week.

And at the meeting which was organized by Action Aid Zambia, residents had a chance to air out their anger over the challenges they are going through with unsafe water.

A concerned resident Bernadette Malamba has documented over five deaths caused by polluted water in the district.

"We have documented five deaths so far. Most of them are children who die of unsafe water. We have nowhere to complain to. People's sight being affected due to pollution in the Shimulala stream," said Ms Malamba who also works for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.

Ms Malamba has been campaigning against pollution in Chingola since 2005 and she has a list of suspected cases of pollution in about three streams.

Her words have been echoed by other residents who face similar challenges.
Chingola residents during the meeting at Protea Hotel

"The Zambia Environmental Management Agency has failed us. Every year they come here to test water but nothing tangible comes out. Mining companies keep polluting our water and ZEMA is quiet," said Kennedy Mulenga who heads a local pressure group on pollution.

Across Chingola, cases of diarrhoea and other diseases are common.

A visit to Shimulala village on the outskirts of Chingola town reveals the full extent of pollution.

In the past decade, residents had gardens along the Shimulala stream but today, they have all disappeared.

Downstream, indigenous streams have dried up due to high levels of copper and acid in the stream.

"This stream has been polluted. It has high levels of copper, acid and other minerals. When we plant crops, they do not grow. This has led us to stop planting rape and cabbage because they dry up. This has brought poverty in the village, we are suffering," said Davies Sinyangwe in an interview.

Another resident Hildah Nakumwenda has this to say: "Water from this stream is not healthy. When you cook beans, it does not get ripe. When you use the water for bathing, it leaves you with rush. We used to support our children with school fees from the gardens but now they have abandoned school because we cant afford to pay the fees."

Action Aid Zambia, a member of the global non governmental organisation championing the rights of underprivileged people in society, has joined the residents of Chingola in calling for action on pollution.

"We have received several cases of human rights violations in the form of pollution. We shall take on these cases and help the residents find a solution to this problem. The problem we have found is that ZEMA does not engage the community in these issues," said Jeston Lunda, Action Aid Zambia Manager for Agriculture and Environment.

And in some areas like Maiteneke and Sopano, instead of receiving clean running water from Mulonga Water and Sewerage Company, residents are supplied with brown water.

"It seems Mulonga Water does not treat its water. When Konkola Copper Mines releases that dirty water from the mine, it flows into the Kafue river where Mulonga collects its water. They do not even treat it and supply us like that," said Charles Mubanga, a resident of Maiteneke.

And Sabrina Mule, a resident of Sopano also complains of the brown water: "We are tired of being sick with this brown water. We need a solution as soon as possible before we all die of diseases."

But Mulonga Water and Sewerage Company Public Relations Manager Deborah Kangende says the brown water is safe for drinking.

"We have a number of residential areas in Chingola who are supplied with brown water from KCM. That water is safe because we conduct tests before we supply it. That colour comes out because of the reaction from the minerals and chlorine which we add to purify it," said Ms Kangende in an interview.
The Shimulala stream

Recently, KCM Chief Executive Officer Steven Din acknowledged receiving a petition from Chingola residents over pollution. 

This was after Mines Minister Christopher Yaluma asked him about the many cases residents briefed him on pollution.

Mr Din promised that the mining giant would look into their concerns.

The seven paged petition contains several detailed cases of water and air pollution which are all blamed on KCM, Zambia's largest mining investor.

Aerial pictures of suspected polluted areas and results of PH tests on water are all tabulated in the petition.

"We as residents have since witnessed an increase in acid mist which is chocking residents in the western part of Chingola around Mwaiseni and Chiwempala, the most recent incident being reported on Monday 12th and Tuesday 13th December, 2016. This is further exacerbated by the lack of mist suppressants," reads part of the petition.

The petition was delivered on 14th December to KCM with copies being made available to the two area Members of Parliament in Chingola, Councillors, the Ministry of Finance, the Zambia Development Agency and the Zambia Revenue Authority.

KCM is among seven major mining firms which are under investigations following the discivery of high levels of sulphate in the Kafue and Mwambashi stream three weeks ago.

The pollution forced the Nkana Water and Sewerage Company to shut water supply to the city of Kitwe, leaving the over 500,000 residents of Zamhia's second largest city without water for two days.

Results from the investigations by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency are yet to be released.

The other mining firms under investigations for pollution are NFC Africa Mining, Chambeshi Copper Smelter, Chambeshi Metals, Sino Metals, Bollore Africa Mining and Mopani Copper Mines.

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