Government through the Zambia Mining and Environmental Remediation and Improvement Project (ZMERIP) is reviewing the policy and legislative framework on Environmental governance in the mining sector.
ZMERIP is a US$65.6 million, World Bank funded project being implemented by the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development, whose objective is to reduce environmental health risks, including Lead exposure, to the local people in critically polluted mining areas in Kabwe, Kitwe, Mufulira and Chingola whilst strengthening the environmental management and governance in the mining sector.
Providing an update on ZMERIP’s performance for 2019 at his office, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development, Barnaby Mulenga said the project has embarked on the development of technical guidelines for mine closure and progressive maintenance of mines.
He said ZMERIP in collaboration with the Project Implementation Units at the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) and Mine Safety Department (MSD) is also working on operationalisation of the Permanent Environment Fund at ZEMA and improve the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) under the Ministry of Mines to minimise Government expenditure on environmental liabilities.
“We are aware, as a ministry that some mines have in the past not been technically closed and that is why this intervention from the project is a useful one. When closing a mine there must be certain processes that will ensure that environmental liabilities are reduced after operations come to an end and that is why these guidelines are important,” Mr Mulenga explained.
Mr Mulenga further said one of the objective of ZMERIP is to build capacity among regulatory institutions such the ZEMA, MSD, Radiation Protection Authority (RPA) and the four municipalities to enhance enforcement regulation and improve effectiveness of environmental monitoring and information dis-closure.
“As a ministry we noted that there was a gap where Councils were not involved in environmental matters will be capacity built so that they are able to support environmental monitoring mining activities and provide useful data to the project for monitoring of compliance year by year,” He added.
Mr Mulenga said, “Mining is an expensive exercise which if not properly managed has consequences that impact local environments negatively. Environmental liabilities that arise from mining need a clear strategy and through this project, it an opportunity to put in place policies and legislation that will ensure going forward we manage the environment better.”
Remediation of contaminated Hotspots and infrastructure improvement
Mr Mulenga said the project has launched Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA) studies for environmental remediation and infrastructure improvements in Kabwe and the Copperbelt for the rehabilitation of the Kabwe Canal, construction of an Engineered Sanitary Landfill and Voluntary In situ remediation for Lead hotspot areas in Kabwe and rehabilitation of Tailings Dam 10 in Mufulira and Overburden Dump 54 in Kitwe.
The Kabwe Canal which transverse five townships is a channel for effluent discharged from the Kabwe mine which also carries storm water containing Lead elements during the rainy season.
The ESIA studies will inform the appropriate remediation works to be implored during implementation, taking into consideration comments and suggestions from the communities in project areas.
Mr Mulenga said ZMERIP recently conducted a pilot environmental remediation at Mine Primary School in Mutwewansofu using the deep tilling technique which involves the turning of soil upside down and applying phosphate to bind the Lead contents.
He said the pilot exercise was successful and interventions will be extended to selected schools with high Lead levels in the soil within the hotspot areas.
Mr Mulenga explained that although the project was centred on Kabwe, ZMERIP was also addressing environmental liabilities on the Copperbelt where the project plans to rehabilitate selected mine waste facilities to minimize potential pollution threat to the surrounding communities.
ZMERIP will also undertake phytoremediation in Kabwe and Chingola, a bioremediation process that uses various types of plants to remove contaminants in the soil and groundwater. Kabwe is faced with Lead pollution where as Chingola suffers from Copper sulphate water pollution.
Reducing environmental health risks
Mr Mulenga said Government has procured, through UNICEF, $2.5 million worth of medicines for the Blood Lead Level (BLL) treatment exercise in Kabwe aimed at reducing high Blood Lead Levels in people, particularly children, exposed to Lead pollution.
He said the project with the support from Ministry of Health will next year roll out the testing of 10,000 people and treatment of 4000 people with high blood Lead levels in Kabwe.
Mr Mulenga said ZMERIP in partnership with the Technical Working Group (TWG) comprising experts from the University of Zambia (UNZA), District Medical Office and JICA-KAMPAI has developed a health manual and lead treatment protocol for use by medical staff and community volunteers.
He said TWG also trained over 30 health workers in Kabwe and Kapiri Mposhi Districts in preparation of the lead test and treat health intervention. To support the health interventions, ZMERIP has launched the Livelihood Interventions which will empower vulnerable women and unemployed youths groups in Kabwe, Kitwe, Mufulira and Chingola whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by mining.
The empowerment is aimed at providing alternative sources of income and discourage local people from health threatening activities such illegal mining and stone crushing among others.
Mr Mulenga said Government cannot achieve much on its own and appealed to mine license holders to safe guard their operations and ensure environmental and safety compliance. “It is the responsibility of every mine license holder to ensure that they mitigate against any environmental liability in their license area.”
He also urged stakeholders and communities in project areas to support the interventions saying environmental health risks associated with mining pollution affects nearly everyone.
He said ZMERIP has developed a Feedback and Grievance Redressal Mechanism (FGRM) to allow affected persons to provide feedback and concerns related to ZMERIP to the project.