|ZEMA inspectors after collecting samples at Muntimpa Dam|
By Paul Shalala
Zambia's environment watchdog has launched investigations on seven major multi-national mining firms following the polluting of Kafue river, the source of drinking water for the country's second largest city Kitwe.
Four of the seven companies being investigated are Chinese owned.
The largest mining investor in Zambia, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) a subsidiary of London-listed Vedanta Resources PLC, Mopani Copper Mines a subsidiary of the Anglo-Swiss multi-national Glencore, Chinese owned NFC Africa Mining PLC, Chambeshi Metals, Chambeshi Copper Smelter, Sino Metals and Bollore Mining Limited are all under investigation.
On Monday, the Kafue river and its tributary Mwambashi were polluted with sulphate which forced the Nkana Water and Sewerage Company to shut down its operations, leaving the over 500,000 residents of Kitwe without running water for 48 hours.
On Thursday, the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) launched the investigations on the seven mining firms because they all discharge their effluent into the Mwambashi stream which was the source of the pollution.
In the past three days, ZEMA inspectors have been testing water at Muntimpa Tailings Dam in the mining town of Chingola where KCM discharges its effluent before it flows into the Mwambashi stream which eventually offloads its water into the Kafue river.
The lead investigator in the exercise Gift Sikaundi says results of the tests carried out at Muntimpa Tailings Dam are expected to be made public next week on Monday.
"We have collected samples from Muntimpa Tailings Dam and we are analysing them in the laboratory right now. We are hoping to get a conclusive result on Monday," said Mr Sikaundi who is also ZEMA's Manager for the Northern Region of Zambia.
He also revealed that the institution wrote letters to all the seven multinational companies demanding that they hand over their test results from their respective discharge for the past 30 days but only four of them have complied.
"So far, only KCM, NFC Africa Mining, Chambeshi Copper Smelter and Mopani Copper Mines have submitted their reports. The remaining three didn't submit by yesterday's deadline. Despite that, we will conduct our own investigation and catch the firm which polluted the water."
Zambia's water regulator the Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA) has also joined the probe.
Inspectors from WRMA today joined their counterparts from ZEMA during their investigations in the mining town of Chingola.
ZEMA is a government agency under the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources while WAMA is under the Ministry of Energy and Water Development.
Of the seven being investigated, KCM has more allegations of pollution than the remaining six.
|ZEMA Inspector Ray Chifwaila testing the acidity of the dam|
In the past, the Indian-owned mining giant has been tried, convicted and fined by the Zambian courts for pollution.
The firm and its Indian parent company Vedanta Resources PLC are currently sued in London for polluting over 1,800 Zambian citizens.
And a Kitwe-based environmental activist Lovemore Muma says ZEMA needs to be more proactive when dealing with pollution cases in the mining sector.
"The current case where ZEMA is investigating the pollution of the Kafue river shows that ZEMA is reactive and not proactive. Imagine if Nkana Water and Sewerage Company did not detect the sulphate in the river, was ZEMA going to detect it? What is happening to other rivers which are not tapped by water utilities? This is worrying," said Mr Muma who is the Executive Director of The Earth Organisation, a civil society organisation which campaigns for the environment.
He further says ZEMA must be strengthened by being transformed into an authority which will have powers to prosecute environmental offenders as opposed to just investigating and publishing its findings.
This case has received considerable media attention in the country.