Thursday, 19 January 2017

World Bank's US$65.6M Credit Targets Zambia's Polluted Towns

World Bank Team with Central Province Permanent Secretary
By Paul Shalala in Kabwe

The World Bank has kick-started a five year environmental program aimed at alleviating the suffering of the people in three Zambian towns which are heavily polluted and whose residents have been affected by pollution.

The Zambia Mining Environment Remediation and Improvement Project is funded through a US$ 65.6 million credit facilitated by the World Bank’s International Development Association.

The project aims at reduce environmental health risks for people residing in polluted mining areas in Kabwe, Kitwe and Chingola Districts.

For the past 52 years, mining has been Zambia’s biggest revenue earner.

The country has largely depended on minerals, especially copper, for its survival.

The country is the second largest producer of copper in Africa and the third in the world.

However, this natural resource has its own challenges.

With over decades of mining having been done in Zambia, the legacy of mineral extraction has not been good.

In mining towns like Chingola, rivers and streams have been contaminated by the mines.

This has led to people getting sick while a handful have died due to pollution.

At an Action Aid-organised forum for residents of Chingola to speak out about pollution last month, many residents could not hide their anger.

“We have seen people die, we have seen people getting sick, we have seen water polluted. But nothing is being done to stop this pollution,” said Bernadette Mulamba, a Chingola resident and an environmental activist with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.

A few days earlier, Chingola Mayor Titus Tembo had complained of Zambia’s largest mining firm Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) of having polluted the Mushishima stream leading to fish die and villagers picking and eating it.

“KCM has polluted the.Mushihsima stream killing fish. Because of poverty, our people are eating the dead fish and some have become sick, said Mr Tembo.

The story is the same in Kitwe which hosts major mines.

Here, both air and water pollution has been reported.

In December last year, the Kafue river which supplies water to the city of Kitwe was polluted with high levels of sulphate which forced the Nkana Water and Sewerage Company to switch off water supply to the city which has over 500,000 residents.

This was followed by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) instituting investigations on seven mining firms which discharge water into the Mwambashi stream and the Kafue river.
ZEMA inspectors collecting samples at Muntimpa Dam

ZEMA inspectors took samples from the seven companies and tested them in three separate laboratories but to date, the results are still being awaited.

And in Kabwe, the legacy of lead and zinc mining is evident.

The town, which is infamously called a ghost town, is said to be the worst hit city in the world in terms of lead poisoning.

According to data from the World Bank Country Office in Zambia, studies done in 2003 – 2006 showed that the content of lead in soil in certain areas of Kabwe were as high as 26,000 mg/kg against the acceptable levels of about 10 to 50 mg/kg making the land unsuitable for residential and agricultural purposes.

With these case studies and accounts of real pollution in the three mining towns, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors on 20 December, 2016 approved the credit for the Zambia Mining Environment Remediation and Improvement project.

The project is expected to benefit 70,000 people who live in the areas heavily polluted by the mines.

On Saturday, a team of World Bank officials from the Zambian office and the bank’s international headquarters in Washington DC visited Kabwe to launch the project.

The team explained why the Zambia Mining Environment Remediation and Improvement Project is important to people in the three mining towns.

“Mining Environment Remediation and Improvement Project will be implemented for five years from 2016 to 2021. The project’s objective is to reduce environmental health risks on the local population which is associated with mining in criticall polluted areas of Kabwe and other Copperbelt towns,” said World Bank Country Manager Ina-Marlene Ruthenberg.

She revealed that the project will: “Clean up some parts of the old mining town of Kabwe which still has unacceptably high levels of lead in the soil and high Blood Lead level among children, resulting from the past lead mining in the area.”

And newly appointed Central Province Permanent Secretary Chanda Kabwe, who hosted the team in his office, pledged the Zambian government’s support for the project.

Mr Kabwe, who is just a few days in the office, spent the past three years as District Commissioner in the mining towns of Mufulira and Kitwe which are both polluted by mining.

“Having come from the Copperbelt where I saved in the mining towns, I pledge my support to ensure this project succeeds. Central Province is predominantly an agriculture area and pollution affects the crop. This could also affect food security. So we will ensure this project succeeds so we can fight poverty,” said Mr Kabwe.

The Project will work with the City Councils in Kabwe, Kitwe and Chingola to ensure that the impact in terms of implementation is owned by the respective local authorities.
The polluted Shimulala stream in Chingola

And leaders in the respective municipalities are happy that the project will alleviate some of the suffering their people go through.

Kabwe Municipal Council Director of Public Health Paul Mukuka had this to say: “In the past we have had JICA (Japan International Corporation Agency) and the Copperbelt Environment Project doing a number of studies in Kabwe. We hope the coming of the World Bank project will help save more lives from pollution.”

For Kitwe Mayor Christopher Kangombe, the project is more than welcome to the country's second largest city.

“We commend the World Bank for committing US$65.6 million to this project. We welcome this project and hope it will help us reduce the effects of pollution in Kitwe. We however wait to learn the scope of work,” said Mr Kangombe.

Kitwe-based Ministry of Mines Director of Mine Safety Gideon Ndalama will serve as the National Coordinator for the Zambia Mining Environment Remediation and Improvement Project.

In this role, Mr Ndalama will work with the World Bank, the three municipalities and the Zambia Environmental Management Agency.

“This is a locally entrenched project, we should all own it. This is the only way we will have sustainability,” said Ndalama.

In terms of benefits to the local people, this project targets to provide medical interventions to over 30,000 children.
The projects plans to reduce Blood Lead Level (BLL) by 50% among children under the age of 15.

Over 4,000 of these children are expected to be tested for BLL by 2022.

World Bank Environment Specialist Mwansa Lukwesa explains that the health component to the Zambia Mining Environment Remediation and Improvement project is important because pollution has effects on people’s health.

“The project will test and treat children under the age of five and giving them supplements. The issues of lead poisoning are linked with nutrition because most of the people affected are poor,” he said.

By the year 2021, the Zambia Mining Environment Remediation and Improvement Project is expected to reduce lead contamination in Kabwe by 70 percent.

Further, the project also aims to empower 500 women and unemployed youths with income generating activities which will keep them away from jobs that expose them to lead poisoning.

Due to lack of jobs, some Kabwe residents have broken locks to the tailing dams and opened them to have access to quarrying stones.

The Zambia Mining Environment Remediation and Improvement Project is the second environmental program the Bretton Woods institution has funded in Zambia to fight pollution in mine areas.

Between 2003 and 2011, the World Bank funded the Copperbelt Environment Project which produced some findings which the current project aims to build on.

Kabwe was at the center of lead mining from 1902 until the mine was closed in 1994.

Illegal stone quarrying in the former mine has continued and a recent tour by this blogger found some residents conducting driving lessons at the former mine site.

All these activities increase people's exposure to lead.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was also produced as a 7 minutes documentary which aired on TV2's Morning Live Program on 19 January 2017 and it was again broadcast on TV1's Newsline program on 20 January 2017. You can watch the documentary which aired on Newsline on this YouTube link: Zambia Mining Pollution Documentary

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