In a stern message directed towards foreign mining investors, the Minister of Green Economy and Environment, Hon. Eng. Collins Nzovu MP, has emphasized the importance of adhering to safety and environmental standards comparable to those practiced in their home countries. The minister’s statement comes as a response to concerns regarding inadequate compliance with regulations by mining companies operating within Zambia.
Hon. Nzovu expressed his disappointment in the lax adherence to established procedures and guidelines exhibited by some mining investors upon entering the country. He highlighted the glaring contrast between the standards applied in their home nations and the practices adopted in Zambia’s mining industry.
The minister’s concerns were articulated during his visit to Mumbwa District, where he was accompanied by a delegation from the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA). The team’s objectives included monitoring ongoing projects for compliance and identifying instances of illegal mining in the region.
During inspections, the team discovered a mix of compliant and non-compliant entities. Certain gold processing plants were found to operate in conditions that posed environmental risks and threatened worker safety. These plants were reportedly utilizing hazardous substances like mercury and cyanide for gold extraction, substances that are known to have detrimental effects on human health and the environment. The use of these substances is regulated under ZEMA guidelines and international agreements such as the Minamata Convention, which Zambia is a party to.
Moreover, the inspections revealed various violations, including the lack of protective gear for workers handling dangerous chemicals, insufficient fencing around processing plants, inadequate measures to counter dust pollution, and improper handling of waste materials, resulting in pollution.
The minister’s strong stance was evident as he proclaimed that the time for talk had passed and action was imperative. He emphasized that gold processing plants situated near water bodies, wetlands, and dams needed to relocate due to the potential harm posed by the chemicals used in their operations. Hon. Nzovu underscored the significance of strict adherence to regulations, particularly with regards to the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for workers.
The Minister highlighted the severe environmental implications of mining-related pollution, emphasizing that communities were at risk from exposure to hazardous substances. He narrated an alarming incident where a pregnant woman was observed using mercury-contaminated water for washing, underscoring the immediate dangers at hand.
ZEMA’s Acting Manager of Operations, Mr. Webby Simwayi, echoed the minister’s sentiments, stating that processing and mining plants failing to comply with regulatory mandates would face appropriate consequences under EMA No. 12 of 2011.
Local authorities also weighed in on the matter. Mr. Paris Heempwe, the Chairperson for Matala ward, disclosed that there had been reports of animals perishing due to consumption of water contaminated by gold processing activities.
In response to these findings, the gold processing plants implicated in the violations have committed to addressing the issues raised.
As the situation unfolds, Hon. Nzovu’s focus remains steadfast on ensuring the mining industry operates in accordance with the law and that the environment and local communities are safeguarded. His swift response to the tragedy of illegal mining fatalities demonstrates his commitment to enacting measures that ensure mining is carried out safely and responsibly.