Government Rejects Appeal on Proposed Lower Zambezi Mine
In a statement given this past week, Minister of Green Economy and Environment Collins Nzovu told the Zambian parliament that he found that “ZEMA was on firm ground to cancel Mwembeshi Resources Ltd decision letter”, saying he was guided by the precautionary principle to support measures to prevent environmental degradation.
In August this year, ZEMA cancelled its permission to mine in the Lower Zambezi National Park after Mwembeshi Resources Limited failed to comply with a range of conditions outlined in a decision letter issued in May 2021. This decision letter had allowed mining to go ahead – if the mining company adhered to the conditions. The mining company then appealed to the Ministry of Green Economy and Environment’s office, with the Minister announcing this week that the appeal had been rejected.
In his statement, the minister went on to say “Mwembeshi Resources Limited’s responses to all the violations I have highlighted before this house were unsatisfactory and I take the view that Mwembeshi Resources Limited should not have commenced actives in such a sensitive environment without having obtained all the necessary authorisations and complied with conditions of the decision letter”.
This announcement has been met with resounding praise from civil society across Zambia and the region. CSOs under the banner Save Zambezi, Safe Zambezi (SZSZ) including WWF Zambia, Conservation Advocates Zambia (CAZ), Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ) and Wildlife Crime Prevention (WCP) have worked hard to highlight the negative impacts the copper mine will have on the park and surrounding areas. In a press release published on the heels of the minister’s parliamentary report, the coalition stated that the decisions made reflect well on the environmental oversight in Zambia.
“It is an important victory for those local communities who rely on farming, fishing, and tourism for their livelihoods in Zambia and neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique, not to mention the environment and wildlife in these areas,”
The issue of mining in the Lower Zambezi region has long been a controversial topic. In 2012, ZEMA initially rejected the proposed copper mining inside the national park on the basis that the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was not sufficient. A technical review committee agreed. In May 2021, ZEMA reversed this initial decision allowing mining to proceed.
The Lower Zambezi National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife and is a popular destination for tourists seeking a unique safari experience. However, plans to open a large-scale copper mine in the region raised concerns about the potential negative impacts on the environment, wildlife, and tourism industry. One of the main sources of opposition to mining in the area was the effect it would have on tourism.
Tourism is a major source of income for the local economy in Lower Zambezi, and many lodges and operators rely on the natural beauty and wildlife of the region to attract visitors. The national park has been reported to provide 7,463 jobs for the local population through lodges, NGOs, DNPW, construction, transport, etc, (World Bank, 2021) all of which will be on the line should the park be damaged by the mine, as is forecast. This figure was in stark contrast to the jobs Mwembeshi Resources proposed. According to an Environmental Social Impact Assessment submitted by Mwembeshi Resources to ZEMA, roughly 250 – 300 jobs would be generated by the mine.
Across Zambia, many threats to environmental rights are increasingly emerging that can undermine the conservation of natural resources and the well-being of communities. These include illegal logging, mining, wildlife trafficking and commercial development. Addressing these threats requires enforcing environmental laws and regulations, supporting community-based conservation initiatives, raising awareness of environmental rights, and ensuring meaningful participation of local communities in decision-making processes.
Events such as this decision by ZEMA and the Minister of Green Economy are monumental and call for great celebration. It is proof that well-governed and supported communities can successfully fight for their environmental rights through existing representative bodies.
To date, more than 50,000 people around the world have signed a petition run by the Save Zambezi, Safe Zambezi coalition to halt the mine. Zambia’s founding father Kenneth Kaunda in his last month’s wrote a heartfelt protest about the mine. Other traditional and political leaders have also added their voices to the fight for outrage and deep concern about the mine.
Though this fight may have been won. There remains the greater battle of ensuring safety and prosperity for the communities living in Lower Zambezi. WWF Zambia Country Director, Ms Nachilala Nkombo passionately summarised the coalition’s vision as follows.
“Sustainable management of this resource is crucial in securing the futures of over 250 million people in the broader region that depend on it. The coalition of NGOs seeks the opportunity to partner with the government to tackle the unemployment and poverty challenges in the area through the creation of sustainable jobs”.