Friday, 31 July 2020

Dangote Cement Blocks Mwatishi Stream In Masaiti

Part of the Mwatishi stream drying up in Pinta Village
By Paul Shalala in Masaiti

The crops are dying and life has become unbearable in Senior Chief Chiwala’s Chiefdom in Masaiti District on the Copperbelt.

For the past three weeks, thousands of residents in 12 villages have had no access to water.

The affected villages are Pinta, Kantanga, Yusufu, Saidi Situbisha, Saidi Mujale, Kalulu and Kapindo.

Other villages are Chisoboya, Chingwele, Kapala, Maliko and Matutu.

Their only source of water, the Mwatishi stream, is dry and this is not because of natural causes but because of human activity.

Not because it is not rain season, but because the stream has been disturbed by mining.

Dangote Cement, the Zambian arm of Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote’s empire, has dug a limestone quarry inside the stream, completely blocking the floor of water.

Water now flows from the stream’s source to the quarry and it stops there.

After the quarry, the streams is dry up and there is no water reaching the confluence with the Kafubu river in Ndola.

“Dangote has affected us. That quarry they have constructed on the stream  has affected us so much. As you can see, our crops are drying up due to lack of water,” said Pinta Musonda, a farmer in Pinta Village.

Dangote runs a cement plant in Senior Chief Chiwala’s Chiefdom.

The plant is strategically located in an area where limestone is readily available.

However, authorities have raised the alarm.

Vegetables drying up in villages along the Mwatishi stream
After receiving complaints from villagers, newly appointed Masaiti District Commissioner Patrick Zulu has visited the area to see for himself what is happening.

“The stream is completely blocked as you can see. In as much as we need investment in this district, we also need to balance with the needs of the local people. There is need for regulators to come and investigate this matter,” said Mr Zulu as he toured the quarry.

Mr Zulu was shocked to find that Dangote had been pumping water from the other side of the stream with pipes and delivering it to the dry river bed to help keep the stream flowing.

However, that effort backfired when the pumps developed faults and water could not reach all the villages.

In an interview, Dangote Cement denied blocking the stream.

“We have not blocked the stream, what happened is that our pumps failed to work and we could not pump more water to the other side of the stream,” said Taata Kalokoni, a Project Geologist at Dangote Cement in an interview.

Asked why the company decided to build a quarry across the stream, Mr Kalokoni claimed all activities by the company are lawful.

“We adhere to all regulations and all our activities have been approved. But for the quarry, we just need to normalize things with the authorities,” he added.

However, civil society organizations are concerned.

Their worry is that Dangote’s activities have potential to harm both humans and the environment.

“The stream has been blocked completely, it no longer flows. Dangote and the government must now work together to restore this stream to its original state. Our biggest worry is that people in these villages who depend on their gardens may starve and this will lead to poverty,” said Archie Mulunda, a Board Member at FIAN Zambia.

Meanwhile, the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) has sent a team of inspectors to the Mwatishi Stream to investigate the matter.
This is where the Mwatishi stream used to flow

ZEMA Spokesperson Irene Chipili has told this blogger that the team has in the past few days been on the ground, investigating the blocking of the Mwatishi stream by the cement giant.

“The inspectors are investigating the impact of the action on the environment and if any illegality has been done. A full report will be availed to the public as soon as possible,” said Mrs Chipili.

As to what punishment can be meted out if Dangote Cement is found wanting, Mrs Chipili said it was premature to talk about punishment before work is completed on the ground.

And the Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA) has also sent its team of inspectors to the site.

WARMA is a government agency which regulates the use of water resources in the country.

At its cement plant in Masaiti, Dangote Cement employs hundreds of workers who produce thousands of bags of cement which briefly stabilized cement prices when the company entered the country a few years ago.

The company also runs a fleet of trucks which ferry cement across the country.

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