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More Good News for Lower Zambezi

Early last week Zambia woke up to the news that the Zambian government had cancelled the mining licenses of over 2,500 companies, including Mwembeshi Resources, the company behind the proposed and wildly protested Kangaluwi Mine in Lower Zambezi National Park.  This has brought joy to the hearts of conservationists and environmentalists across Zambia who have long fought the min, especially the Save Zambezi, Safe Zambezi coalition.

In 2011 Mwembeshi Resources was granted a 25-year large-scale mining license to develop a copper mine inside the national park.  The following year, an environmental and social impact assessment of the mine was submitted to the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) and subsequently rejected for numerous reasons including;

“The proposed mine site would be located in the middle of the national park. The adverse impact of the open pit mining would therefore permanently destroy the landscape of the game park. Certainly, Mwembeshi Resources Limited did not provide an alternative location to avoid disturbing the natural habitat.

the environmental footprint of the mine would increase when the roads and power lines and other associated works related to the mine are constructed. The integrity of the national park would therefore be compromised, and in the long-term, the ecological value would be affected.”

 –  Hon. Minister of Mines and Minerals Development Mr Musukwa, MP

   Ministerial statement on status of Kangaluwi copper project in Lower Zambezi National Park

In 2021, the initially rejected impact assessment was approved by ZEMA, much to the dismay of conservationists. However, in August 2023, 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.

These conditions included Mwembeshi Resources not putting up permanent structures in the park without prior approval; submitting Environmental Impact Assessments for water processing, fuel storage and sewerage treatment; undertaking a design for a tailings storage facility which would be submitted along with a comprehensive monitoring programme to ZEMA. Mwembeshi Resources failure to comply with these, and several other conditions, resulted in ZEMA’s decision.

The mining company then appealed to the Ministry of Green Economy and Environment’s office, which rejected the appeal.  In a statement given last year, 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”, stating that he was guided by the precautionary principle to support measures to prevent environmental degradation.

This year, both Mwembeshi Resources and their proposed mine are in the news again as the Ministry of Mines has cancelled their mining license citing non-compliance.

This announcement has been met with resounding praise from civil society across Zambia and the region. In a television interview given earlier this week by the Director of Communications for Wildlife Crime Prevention, Ms. Luwi Nguluka, she expressed how joyful the Save Zambezi, Safe Zambezi coalition was to hear the news. She stated that the coalition was not against mining in Zambia or the much-needed economic growth and development mining can bring. The coalition is however against mining in a national park like Lower Zambezi which is not in the best interest of Zambians.

Save Zambezi, Safe Zambezi (SZSZ) is a coalition of organisations including Wildlife Crime Prevention, WWF Zambia, Conservation Advocates Zambia Conservation Lower Zambezi that has worked tirelessly for years to highlight the negative impacts the copper mine will have on the park and surrounding areas, appealing to the Zambian government to rescind all licenses given to the Mwembeshi Resources and other companies that may seek to do the same.

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 the Ministry of Mines to cancel this mining license 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.

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