APART from the choking fumes and the precipitation of atmospheric contaminants that has impaired aquatic life, there are many disposal sites on the Copperbelt containing hazardous wastes that pose risks to human health.
Human lives have been lost because of drinking contaminated water and the erring institutions that discharge the toxic waste into the sources go unpunished or are given light penalties.
Residents in townships like Wusakile in Kitwe, Kankoyo, and Butondo in Mufulira have been exposed to all sorts of pollution and they have continued to live in these townships, hoping that one day the situation will change.
Most water bodies on the Copperbelt have been polluted on several occasions killing aquatic life.
There seems to be no immediate remedy in sight because the corporate world seems to have more respect for their profits than human health.
To make matters worse, vigorous civic awareness campaigns are not put in place to sensitize the public about the sorry situation obtaining on the ground and how they could be able to avoid outbreaks of water -borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery.
The affected residents in townships like Kankoyo which are exposed to toxic fumes could not access medical check-ups to determine the status of their lungs because of financial constraints and only realise the damage caused when it is too late.
Many of them are suspected of being HIV patients because of their chronic heart problems caused by the fumes discharged from the mines.
Makweti Sishekanu, a student at the University of Zambia in the school of environment education observes that going by the current environmental trends on the Copperbelt, one can adequately conclude that the region may soon become too hazardous to live in.
“Arriving in the evening at sunset in Kitwe, one cannot even clearly see the beauty of sun set as it is because of the polluted air from the mines. Are we creating another Kabwe pollution?
Looking at the recent Butondo residents versus Mopani Copper Mines, the Konkola Copper Mines K10 billion case and just recently the Bwana Mkubwa and Munkulungwe stream Community, one wonders what the benefits of copper mining in Zambia are!
What has copper mining done to the lives of many Zambians on the Copperbelt other than jeopardizing their health with air and water pollution,” Mr Sishekanu said.
He says the mines have actually worsened the people’s poverty on the Copperbelt through land dereliction, biodiversity loss and crop insecurity.
“Is this the price that Zambian citizens have to pay for their richly endowed country? Since independence, Zambia has failed to diversify her economy beyond copper production.
The bitter price the country is now paying for its over-reliance on copper is seen on the environment and the people who live there. After so many years of copper mining in Zambia, we should have reached a level where the proceeds from copper mining are invested into other non-extractive and environmentally friendly industries,” he said.
Mr Sishekanu stressed that the mines should remember that, under the current umbrella of environmental law, environmental degradation is a serious infringement on human rights.
He noted that most mines in Zambia, like many third world businesses, do not have sustainability plans for their business.
“If we were to relocate all the environmentally affected copperbelt residents from the region, as once demanded by the Butondo residents from the Vice-President, how many internally displaced people (IDPs) or refugees would we have?
Who would remain working on the mines?
Where would we relocate them to? This is of course, not the answer but the challenge for the mining industry lies beyond and deeper than their strategic and business plans. Respect on the center. This is respect for all stakeholders – communities, workers, contractors, regulatory authorities, suppliers, customers and, most importantly, the natural environment,” he said
Mr Sishekanu pointed out that the mines abrogates the very substantive human rights to life and a clean environment.
“All the court cases we are witnessing between the mines versus the people are because people are now using their procedural human rights to pursue environmental protection. The million dollar question is; what will remain of the region after the copper is exhausted and the companies have made enough profits out of it and leave,” he said.
Alice Bupe a Mufulira resident called on various stakeholders to work towards reducing air pollution in the mining town.
“Vegetation has stopped growing in Kankoyo township because of the pollution that has continued to affect the vast township,” Ms Bupe said.
She said the situation is worrying in the former mining town and called for concerted efforts in addressing the problem.
“Our houses are collapsing and we suspect it is because of continued mining activities under ground, the situation is the same in Butondo township and we believe the solution is to relocate the people to a safe area,” Ms Bupe said.
Ms Bupe said life is tough in Kankoyo township saying people usually develop strange skins diseases because of the fumes from the mines.
“ What is even frustrating is that you can even grow crops within yards, the area is almost a desert, it is a matter of time our houses can collapse at any time, they have developed huge cracks which are threatening to our lives but there is nothing we can do for now,” she said.
Recently some Kankoyo resident’s stormed the then Mufulira district commissioner Philip Simbule’s office to complain over the alleged pollution by Mopani Copper Mines (MCM).
The residents are displeased that MCM has allegedly continued emitting sulphur dioxide into the air and polluting the environment in which they live.
The residents complained of the choking effects of sulphur dioxide and that they are facing difficulties to conduct their daily businesses because of the polluted air.
“A group of community leaders from Kankoyo township came to my office to complain about air pollution or the sulphur dioxide being emitted by MCM. They are saying that they cannot wait for December next year when MCM will be able to reduce the pollution by 97 percent. They want to have an audience with MCM management over this issue,” Mr Sibule said.
Mr Simbule, who had a tough time to calm down the residents, said the people of Kankoyo township are also concerned that their houses have developed cracks because of the mining activities underground.
He said the residents are worried that their children will contract diseases such as tuberculosis due to prolonged exposure to polluted air.
“The residents told me that their bodies are itching because of the sulphur dioxide and that it is causing them a lot of discomfort,” Mr Simbule said.
He however assured Kankoyo residents that MCM has embarked on capital projects to reduce pollution.