Conflict Of Interest: Tourism v. Copper Mines In Zambia

Conflict Of Interest: Tourism v. Copper Mines In Zambia

Opposition is mounting against a decision by the Zambian government to allow an Australian company to mine for copper in the environmentally sensitive Lower Zambezi National Park, TheAge.com reports.

The Lower Zambezi is a tourist haven and one of the world’s most sensitive ecosystems, according to the report. Critics of the copper project say mining will contaminate the river and destroy wildlife.

While Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett met with the Zambian VP in the Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka, protesters opposed to the mine in a national park marched outside. Members of the Australian company, Zambezi Resources, were also at the meeting.

Australian companies have dozens of projects in the works in Africa. Barnett has been on a mission asking African leaders to adhere to the high standards of mining regulations in Australia, according to TheAge.com.

Protesters against the mine in Zambia include tribal leaders and eco-tourist resorts. The tourism industry in Zambia is flourishing. It is sustainable sector — more so than an open pit copper mine whose toxins are almost certain to contaminate one of the world’s most pristine wildlife sanctuaries, wrote Business Columnist Michel West in an editorial for TheAge.com.

Among those opposed to an open-pit copper are 100 non-governmental organizations.

Barnett addressed 6000 delegates at the Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town on why emerging African nations should follow Australia’s mining codes. Australia stands at the vanguard of good practice in the international mining community, Barnett said.

Zambezi Resources responded to a media inquiry with the following statement: The company “promises the world’s greenest copper mine…(the) cleanest, greenest and safest copper mine ever built.”

An independent report on Zambezi Resources’ environmental impact statement by U.S. mining Engineer Jim Kuipers is extraordinarily scathing, West said.

”The Kangaluwi Copper Mine grossly fails to meet U.S. or international standards for environmental assessments,” Kuipers wrote. ”It is our strongest recommendation that this environmental impact statement be rejected by the government of Zambia.”

Even the physical location of the mine is being disputed.

The company says the mine is located on an escarpment 35 kilometers from the Zambezi River.

Kellie Leigh, a conservation scientist who worked in the area for seven years, says the developers’ claims are not true. Leigh says the open-pit site is within 19 kilometers of the Zambezi River, and inside the river’s water catchment area. The mine site is not ”in a remote, inaccessible and sparse part of the park, on the upper escarpment, more than 35 kilometres away from the Zambezi River, with no surface water and consequently very few animals,” Leigh said.

”More importantly, that 19-kilometer distance is meaningless since the identified general mining activity area…is less than one kilometer from the Chakwenga River and Kangaluwi stream, both of which…flow into the Zambezi.

”According to the laws of gravity and water catchments, any contamination would flow into these immediately nearby tributaries and thus into the Zambezi.

”Contaminants won’t bother doing the 19-kilometer cross-country hike across the mountains to the Zambezi,” Leigh said. The main open-pit area of the mine is seven kilometers from the valley floor ”where the wildlife becomes concentrated.”

Although the government has approved the mining project, it didn’t go smoothly, West said. In September 2012, following a detailed environmental impact assessment, the application was denied by the Zambian Environmental Management Authority.

The environmental impact statement failed to comply with basic international regulatory standards for environmental impact assessments, West said.

The Australian company appealed the decision, which was overturned Jan. 17 by Zambia Minister of Mines Harry Kabalo. The project got the go-ahead.

Leigh said the project doesn’t just fail to comply with the Equator Principles (risk management principles accepted worldwide) and Zambian regulations, but it also fails to adhere to international standards against mining in national parks and around World Heritage Areas set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the International Council on Mining and Metals.

It would be a shame if Barnett’s aspirations were compromised by poor project decisions, West said. It would be even more of a shame for the people and wildlife of Zambia if the Zambezi River was polluted by Australian miners. The river flows into neighbouring Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The famous Mana Pools sanctuary is near the mining site.