Senior Chief Musele has reassured his subjects that ground water in his chiefdom is safe to drink after government tests confirmed it was not polluted by the Sentinel Mine in Kalumbila.
The move by the traditional leader heralds a new era in co-operation between the royal establishment and the mine as a result of which First Quantum Minerals has agreed to resume a community water project put on hold last year following attempts by community leaders to blame the mine for naturally occurring water quality issues.
The meeting concluded with Chief Musele and Kalumbila Minerals Ltd General Manager Morris Rowe signing their agreement of a statement from the Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection on the results of investigations by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) and the Department of Water Resources Development into the quality of water in boreholes around Musele Chiefdom.
The report concluded: “Currently, investigation results confirmed that there was no cause/effect relationship between mining activities at Kalumbila Minerals Limited and the water quality grievances.”
Senior Chief Musele said: “It wasn’t our intention to blame the mine or to blame anyone. We wanted assistance from anyone. That’s why I decided to come and meet the general manager so that we know the way forward to rebuild our relationship as brothers, not as enemies, so that we can work in harmony.”.
“I am very pleased to rebuild our relationship and working together with the mines. Although we differed for some times, today we have reconciled and we have ended everything. We want to work together; we want to develop our area so that people can benefit. We don’t want conflicts.
From today onwards we will be working together with the mine.”
The agreement followed a meeting this week between the Chief and mine management, chaired by North-Western Province Minister Hon. Nathaniel Mubukwanu and attended by representatives of ZEMA and the Department of Water Resources Development to agree a way forward on the water project.
The Chief rescinded earlier claims by some of his subjects that the mine was to blame for water quality issues.
The new spirit of goodwill was welcomed by Mr Rowe, who confirmed that on the basis of the Chief’s agreement to publicly support the foundation’s efforts, work would now resume on the stalled water project.
“It has been our commitment from the beginning that we have a good relationship with the community and I am pleased we have set the record straight. We will gladly help on humanitarian grounds. We are part of your community and we will always do our best to continue with our relationship,” he said.
North Western Province Minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu said: “On behalf of Government I wish to sincerely thank both parties that have been involved in this process of discussions. It has been a back-and-forth process. It has taken a bit of time and it wasn’t easy, but I think both teams have demonstrated leadership and this is how we need to proceed going into the future.
“As government we want to ensure and see to it that there is a good and warm working relationship between the mines and the local communities for the benefit of everybody, because investors when they come they don’t just come to bring money, they also come to make profits out of their investment; but at the same time the communities that are hosting these investments must in return benefit, and I hope the mines will to explore other tangible initiatives that are going to help our people in this particular area. I would like to encourage dialogue.” he said.
Naturally occurring iron in the geological structure of the area has been a visible challenge in water in Musele community boreholes for over two decades, long before mining activities commenced in the area. This is a well-known challenge in areas with similar soils in Zambia, in particular, large parts of North-Western and Northern provinces.
Scientific analysis of the water confirmed the naturally occurring iron, which causes water discolouration and a metallic taste. The iron occurs in most of the local soils and is not a result of mining activities. This is backed up by the extensive long-term groundwater monitored programmes initiated by the company before operations began, said the mine.
In addition, abnormally high rainfall in the 2017/2018 rainy season, and clearing of vegetation for farming activities caused flooding of a graveyard, which some village residents blamed on the mine, despite a survey demonstrating that the area was uphill of the mine’s activities.
Through its Trident Foundation, the company budgeted to invest in an initiative to upgrade community water systems in Kalumbila District in work being co-ordinated in consultation with Senior Chief Musele, a development taskforce and a sub-committee specifically set up to recommend improvements to water access.
The mine has undertaken an on-going programme of borehole upgrades to help the community address the challenge of access to clean and safe drinking water, including a technical investigation to locate deep water borehole sites in Kalumbila District.
In 2017, the mining firm spent some US$60,000 to repair 57 community boreholes across the Musele Chiefdom. Repairing the boreholes was identified as a need during an annual community needs assessment, followed up by a mechanical survey of all the boreholes in Musele Chiefdom.
The mine also works in close collaboration with Department of Water Resources Development to undertake annual water quality monitoring of 178 boreholes in the local area, and the results are disclosed to the community.
The programme aims to complement government efforts to increase access to clean and safe drinking water in communities in Kalumbila district.
The mining firm believes access to safe, clean water is the number one priority for community development. Water is a basic human need, and should always be prioritised over other forms of development work. Despite current economic challenges, the company has prioritised its budget to focus on this basic need.