For the past ten years, the Lower Zambezi national park – one of Zambia’s most economically and ecologically important protected areas has been the centre of a heated clash, with environmentalists on one hand and Mwembeshi Resources Ltd on the other.
In March 2010 Mwembeshi Resources Ltd, a subsidiary of Zambezi Resources Ltd, was awarded a license for a large scale open-pit copper mine which was to be located at the heart of the Lower Zambezi national park. This caused an uproar among environmentalists and local communities who felt the Government did not consider the far-reaching economic, social, and environmental consequences that an open pit mine would have on the Lower Zambezi ecosystem.
The Zambia Environmental Management Agency – ZEMA also rejected the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report that the company provided for the proposed mine. Since then, the case has been in and out of court, as one side’s victory is petitioned by the other. In 2019 environmentalists scored a temporal victory when the Zambian government announced that the construction of the open-pit Kangaluwi copper mine would not proceed because a report that was submitted by the environmental regulator had expired.
In February this year, the Court of Appeals of Zambia handed Mwembeshi Resources Ltd a victory when it dismissed an Appeal to stop the proposed Large Scale Open-pit Mine in Lower Zambezi National Park, upholding the High Court’s 2014 decision to dismiss the case. This has brought a fresh uproar from environmentalists, local communities and experts who are now calling on the President to intervene.
Why are so many people opposed to the proposed mining project?
There are many reasons why opening a large open-pit mine in the heart of one of Zambia’s best known national parks doesn’t sit well with many people, let’s look at three of these.
Mining threatens already endangered wildlife. The Lower Zambezi national park is a safe haven for iconic and endangered wildlife, forests, and fresh water species whose existence depends on a delicate balance in the ecosystem. This delicately balanced ecosystem will suffer from the adverse effects of a gigantic open-pit mine. For example, the colossal land required for the mining project will lead to habitat loss for some of the endangered wildlife species. As experts and environmentalists have pointed out, although the mine is expected to cover about 980 km2, which is about 25% of the park, it is estimated that more than 50% of the national park will be lost.
Some of these important species such as elephants, hippos, leopards, lions, and buffalo, which make up the big five for Zambia, are a huge tourist draw and are therefore extremely important drivers of nature based tourism. Local and foreign tourists visiting the Lower Zambezi want to see these majestic animals. In a nutshell, the Lower Zambezi national park has long been known for its pristine wildness and wildlife. To maintain its global appeal, we need to keep it intact. Tourists are attracted by wildlife and pristine wilderness, not by open pit mines in the heart of what is supposed to be a wildlife sanctuary.
Mining is the past; Tourism is the future. Tourism is one of the industries that can help revive Zambia’s struggling economy and keeping the Lower Zambezi intact is actually in line with government policy. Zambia’s Vision 2030 and the Seventh National Development Plan (2017-2021) (7NDP) recognize tourism as an important economic sector that can be used to create a diversified and resilient economy. The Zambia Tourism Master Plan 2018-2038 also prioritizes tourism as one of the priority growth sectors of the Zambian economy, because of its potential to be a major foreign exchange earner and contributor to socio-economic development.
Due to its high demand for labour, tourism is recognized to be an important source of jobs, prosperity, and competitiveness. Unlike mining, tourism is not a diminishing resource, meaning we can keep benefiting from it for decades to come, as long as we take care of our ecosystems. Minerals on the other hand are a diminishing resource. No matter how much we take care of mining operations, the mineral resources in the ground are bound to be depleted.
Under the 2015 National Tourism Policy, The Vision for the tourism sector in Zambia is, “To make Zambia an exciting and growing destination that realizes its full potential and rewards tourists with unique, authentic and treasured experiences, and be amongst the top five tourist destinations of choice in Africa by 2030”.
For a country that wants to be among the top five tourist destinations in Africa, allowing a large open-pit mine in the heart of a world renowned national park is a step in the wrong direction.
Threat of Pollution is serious. The Zambezi basin is one of the most important water sources in Southern Africa. Eight countries share this important water resource including Angola, Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique. The basin is therefore a major source of clean water and directly supports the livelihoods of over 47 million people in the region. Local stakeholders, communities and international experts are concerned that mining inside the national park can cause irreversible damage to the ecology of the Zambezi basin. Mining operations in Zambia have been known to cause pollution of air, soil and water, and land degradation. This proposed mine will not be an exception and the bad part is that so many people, plants and wildlife will be affected.
At a time when many countries are gravitating towards more green and sustainable economies, choosing mining over tourism paints Zambia in bad light. Environmentalists opposed to mining in the Lower Zambezi have started a collective campaign dubbed Save Zambezi, Safe Zambezi. If you want to be among the people that won’t sit back and watch as things fall apart, you can join the group and get your voice heard by signing the petition below.
Sign the petition