By Musyani Siame
The Copperbelt popularly known as ‘’Kopala’’ is the home of mines in Zambia, especially copper mining. The mining activities of big corporations and small firms contribute around 12 % to the national GDP and provide thousands of both direct and indirect jobs. The local economies of the mining towns are heavily dependent on the mines to such an extent that when a local mine closes the town’s economy stalls as has been the case in Luanshya.
As important as mining activities are to Kopala and the national economy, it has had many negative effects on the environment and livelihood of residents. Some of the livelihood effects’ essence is captured in Pilato’s “Ku Kopala” song. Multinational firms have expressed interest so every often because of Zambia’s conducive mining environment. Moreover, multinational companies may find the business environment more favourable because they have better chances of evading tax.
Investors who identify mining business opportunities, migrate to the Copperbelt to participate in copper mining. The market value of copper and other metal prices are driven by demand on the international market and it is a venture for many investors. However, copper production is a threat to the environment given that it is a source of water, soil and air pollution.
As such, Pilato’s message in his new song ‘’Ku kopala’’ expresses the hidden truth about the conduct of many mining firms in Zambia’s heart and soul of the nation ‘’Copperbelt Province’’ and other mining places outside the province. It exemplifies the exact environmental issues faced by the local people on the Copperbelt as a result of irresponsible and unsustainable mining. The song tries to bring out some of the adverse environmental effects of mining and the partial processing of copper and other minerals. I must acknowledge that the song was well articulated including its visuals and sound. Also, Pilato’s work on this piece of art cannot go without notice, especially by those of us who are in the environmental field and beyond. So then what is the solution to the predicament of mining-induced pollution on the Copperbelt?
Successive governments have passed without making environmental pollution by copper mines a priority and also resources deserving resources for control. All governments including the current government give environmental issues a blind eye yet it is one of the biggest challenges faced by the people in the Copperbelt. While mining is the engine of the Copperbelt, the pollution associated with it is detrimental to the environment and must be managed with vigour.
Over the years, governments have proved that little has been done to minimize and control pollution from the mining firms that do not care about the pollution they cause on the environment. This is why I was very impressed and pleased with Pilato’s showpiece on ‘Ku Kopala’s song as it tries to expose some of the environmental pollution being experienced by people in near mining areas more specifically when he mentioned the effects such as the acid effluent on the waters, in the air and on the soil
As such, mining pollution is detrimental in that it negatively affects the environment and people. Science, in general, defines pollution as a process of making water, air and soil unsuitable for use. Mining pollution, in this case, makes soil infertile for farming, contaminates the water and makes it unsafe for drinking and other uses and in addition pollution makes the air to be unclean for breathing. Thus, all these adverse impacts are aggregated together to cause lots of problems to humans such as diseases, hunger and poverty, etc. Nevertheless, the government has a role to play in ensuring that pollution is controlled through legislation and regulation hence there is hope.
In an ideal situation, the government has a role to ensure that mining investors are provided with a conducive environment in which copper production can be done in a sustainable manner. And in return, therefore, the government can benefit through taxes and employment creation for its people while mining firms accrue profits to have a win-win situation. By so doing, it is the mandate of the government to ensure that mining pollution does not occur and prevails. However, this does not happen in reality. The government is always failing to control pollution by mining firms owing to the fact that laws and regulations regarding environmental management and safeguard are still an infant and too weak to deal with the current situation of mining and the high levels of pollution.
Copper mining appears to be destructive to the environment. The government through its statutory body Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) has a huge responsibility of regulating the environmental activities of the mining firms and their operations so as to control pollution. What this means is that mines are compelled to operate within the law through the Environmental Management Act. The Act ensures all mining operations are ethical and meet environmental standards. This is meant to promote mining sustainability so as to control, prevent and minimize pollution which is one of the major contributing factors to diseases, hunger and poverty.
Firstly, it is clear how Pilato in his Ku Kopala video truly narrates how soil pollution has been causing negative environmental effects which in turn affect people by destroying crops and causing soil degradation. People can no longer grow crops for food and for sale. Soils have turned acidic by acid effluent. People can no longer farm because crops no longer grow on the soil due to acid. This contributes to the lack of food and increases poverty for the people. Part of this problem is because the government is failing to regulate the operations of mining firms to enhance adherence to environmental protection regulations.
Secondly, there is little control of air pollution. Air is contaminated because mines are always releasing dust and chemicals through heavy-duty vehicles and copper processing. For example, people of Nkana-West area are always under dust from the trucks transporting copper ore from the black mountain. The air is always polluted. There is no compliance and adherence to standards of air pollution by the mining firms. Dangerous chemicals are released to the environment through copper processing like Sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, etc. Pollution is persistent because the government is not there to control it.
Thirdly, as if pollution is not enough, it has become common now to see people displaced from their own places and be resettled somewhere else. During the establishment of new mines and the expansion of the existing ones, local people are made to vacate and move their land in order to pave way for mining. In as much as displacing people is okay when it is consensual, it is rare that guidelines are followed in this country and in the end, people find it difficult to cope with the situation.
For example, Pilato’s Ku Kopala shows people’s suffering through displacement. It is not uncommon now to find displaced people losing land to mining investors. People lose their right of belonging because they are resettled to strange places as well as lose their houses and other social amenities in the process. In many instances, they are prohibited to enjoy their rights of drawing water from rivers. What a shameful thing. Their lives become miserable. In the video, it is saddening to also learn that people who are resettled are overshadowed by little because they are poor. Their property is evaluated and devalued to the extent where they fail to cope with situations and become depressed. It is a tragedy.
The question is where is the government? Why is ZEMA not being proactive in mitigating mining pollution on the Copperbelt? Why do NGOs advocating for the environment not support environmental activists like Pilato who aim at exposing environmental issues faced by people? To answer such questions catch me on the next episode of ‘’Mines and Toxic Pollution; A Sequel to Pilato’s Ku Kopala’’ episode two.
The author is an Environmental and Water Resources Consultant