MEDIA STATEMENT ON THE THREAT OF HARMFUL DEVELOPMENT ON THE ZAMBEZI RIVER BASIN
It is with great concern that it has come to our attention that on the 7th May 2021 Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) issued a letter approving the very controversial environmental impact statement (EIS) for a Large scale open pit mine located inside the Lower Zambezi National Park.
The Zambezi basin, whose main flow is the Zambezi river, is one of Africa’s most important basins. It’s a natural asset shared between Angola, Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique directly supporting the livelihoods of over 47 million people. It is the main supplier of fresh water for household, agriculture, health and industrial use, and supplier of electricity and fish to the populations of these countries. This basin is a network of important ecosystems that is home to Africa’s most important wildlife and water tourism destinations.
Simply put the Zambezi basin is the most significant shared resource that contributes to economic, environmental and social development of Southern Africa. Sustainable management of this resource is crucial in securing the futures of over 250 million people in the region that depend on it.
To meet the needs of the growing populations the basin attracts a range of investments. The way these investments are identified, designed, sequenced and financed will deliver opportunities for the basin or destroy the futures of the majority populations on the basin if the water is either interrupted or polluted.
Despite the Zambezi River being central to enhancing economic opportunities and securing sustainable livelihoods in Southern Africa, it is undergoing serious threats, one of which is the proposed Kangaluwi copper mining project in Lower Zambezi by Mwembeshi Resources Limited.
The proposed site for the mine lies in Lower Zambezi National Park (LZNP), an International Conservation Union (IUCN) category II protected area in South-Eastern Zambia, on the Zambezi River, which lies within close proximity of the Kafue and Luangwa Rivers. The Lower Zambezi National Park (LZNP) provides refuge to globally threatened wildlife species such as Elephants and Wild Dogs and is home to unique vegetation types that include Zambezi endemics and the only protected and intact lowland deciduous thickets in the Southern African region.
If the mine goes ahead it poses a severe threat to the communities within the region as well as downstream where the risk of contaminating water is extremely high. This would impact the communities in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and the whole Zambezi delta, potentially destroying farming and fishing livelihoods and one of the largest tourism destinations for Zambia and Zimbabwe. While Zambia must benefit from the use of the mineral resources it is endowed with, it cannot do so at the expense of its people and other communities in those countries who have no connection to the mine.
It is clear that the potential long-term impacts of this mine and the environmental threat it poses to the renewable resources of the Zambezi River ecosystem far outweigh any short-term benefits. Local communities depend on the area’s renewable resources for water, fishing, agriculture, tourism and forestry. River pollution caused by the mine could threaten the mighty Zambezi river’s 2,000-ton subsistence fishery, which provides food and protein security to 20,000 people along the river’s banks.
In LZNP, eco-tourism in the area depends largely on the renewable wildlife and habitat resources and contributes significantly to the local and national economies around the LZNP.
Tourism establishments in the park and surrounding Game Management Areas (GMAs) employ more than 1,000 local people, generating a local wage bill of $4 million annually that indirectly supports thousands more people at a local community level.
The mine also threatens upcoming conservation projects such as the $12.5 million Lower Zambezi Flagship Species Restoration project, which received approval from the Ministry of Tourism and Arts in 2018. The project aims to bring back locally extinct species such as the Black Rhino and Eland, thereby restoring biodiversity and improving ecosystem processes in the area, which this mine could threaten.
In addition, the Lower Zambezi National Park (LZNP) shares boundaries with the Mana Pools World Heritage site to the south and is also being considered for designation as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Although the mine is expected to cover about 980 km2, which is about 25% of the park, it is estimated that more than 50% of the national park will be lost (the entire northern part of the park). This means that the primary reasons for which the park was initially established will be lost forever.
The threat to the Zambezi River ecosystem was highlighted by the late Dr Kenneth Kaunda, whose recent passing we deeply mourn. Dr Kaunda said the mine planned for Lower Zambezi National Park “poses the biggest threat in history to the wildlife and pristine wilderness that has survived so many centuries of challenges”. We could not have said it better. We urge our leaders to honour his legacy, by protecting this area.
We implore the Government under His Excellency, The President of the Republic of Zambia and the Father of the Nation, Dr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu, to ensure a Secure Zambezi and a Safe Zambezi by considering the following:
Take immediate measures to secure the entire Zambezi river’s waters as it is a shared resource between five countries. Developing an open pit mine on top of the Zambezi escarpment will accelerate the degradation of the Zambezi basin which is a source of many lives and livelihoods and source of life for a range of important wildlife and biodiversity.
Secure livelihoods of poor farmers and fishermen. Moving the proposed mine away from Lower Zambezi will secure livelihoods and focus on expanding economic opportunities offered by tourism, fishing and farming for local communities. Such sustainable investments will protect the interests of the poor fishing and farming communities.
Take measures of sustainable development that will ensure intergenerational rights to access and benefit from the Zambezi river are secured.
Work with conservation partners, fishing and tour operators to expand sustainable economic activities in the areas that deliver sustainable jobs and sustainable ecosystems.
Invest in the protected areas network as it will secure some of the globally important but threatened wildlife species such as Elephants and Wild dogs and deliver green jobs.
Focus on resolving the negative social and environmental impacts of mining in mining areas before it can consider opening up protected areas to similar degradation.
We join all our local and international stakeholders in appealing to the Government of the Republic of Zambia to reconsider and revoke the permission to mine the Lower Zambezi, which could jeopardise a renewable, sustainable asset of local, National and International importance. Save Zambezi for a Safe Zambezi.