The Zambian government recently made a controversial decision to grant a licence to Zambezi Resources Ltd for copper mining activities in the Lower Zambezi National Park. The action triggered a hullabaloo that has no signs of abating, what with a court injunction granted to environmental groups to halt the process for the moment. Although I am a very fierce critic of the the current Patriotic Front government, this is one of the few things they have done right, even if it is for totally selfish reasons. The main argument given by opponents of the project is an environmental one (ie that mining activities will destroy the beauty of the national park and reduce its tourism value). There are also arguments on pollution from the mining process. My observations:
1. Have the people opposed to this project produced any figures of how income generated from tourism in Lower Zambezi compares with projected income from the mining? The park collected about $600,000 in 2011. Compare that to the revenue that will be collected when the planned half a BILLION Dollars is invested.
2. The mine will only use up 245 square kilometeres out of 4,092 (6%). Why are people acting like it is the whole park? Tourism Minister Sylvia Masebo gave the most dishonest argument in her submissions to the parliamentary committee on tourism and arts by claiming that Government risks losing safari fees amounting to over K84 million and photographic revenue worth over K9 million if mining is allowed in the national park (about $17 million in total). How does the usage of 6% of the land conceivably translate into such a loss?
I have a few responses to your points:
1. This is at the core of the discussion. The fact that we’re trying to put a figure on the value of nature. The mine is giving us this much money how much are the trees and animals and rivers and fresh air and promise of life for not only the animals, but for the human beings that live off the Zambezi giving us? How much can a promise of a life of clean air and an unharmed ecosystem for our future generations put in our pockets, no, in a few individuals’ pockets? And even worse, how much can it put in our pockets TODAY? Not 80, 50, even 10 years from now, no, today, now. This is the question you’re asking. It’s very sad to have to explain to another member of planet earth the value of nature and natural reserves. To have to point out to someone who should by virtue of having been born and lived on this planet have some knowledge on the loads and loads of examples of what happens when we allow ourselves to meet current societal needs and wants at the expense of the health of the environment long term. And I have to point out here that the jury’s still out on whether it’s the needs and wants of a society or the wants of a few individuals that are being met by allowing this mining activity.
2. People are acting like it’s the whole park because they fear 6% will turn into 7%, and then into 20% and even then you’ll still say, ‘the mine will only use up 1000 square kilometres of one park…’ and on and on till there’s no park left. And on and on till there are no other parks left. People are acting like it’s the whole park because no one knows just how damaging 245 square kms of mining activity will be. We don’t need to go far to see the example of the extensive damage that mining can do. Michael, have you been to the Copperbelt? Have you been on any of those roads that lead up to the mines? Never mind the mines, have you been on the main road leading into town in Kitwe or Chingola? Roads that are so deeply potholed you can’t even see the tar anymore, but are still being used by heavy mine trucks to transport materials? Roads that cause innumerable accidents and are a horror to drive on for Zambians, but are still being used to reap economic benefits for the mines who don’t bother to fix them. Have you lived on the Copperbelt, where there are regular warnings of chemicals being leaked into the drinking water ‘accidentally’ and the only time that these so called accidents are acknowledged by the mines is when people are hospitalized or killed by the chemicals. Have you been to Kabwe? Have you taken a look at those mounds of lord-knows-what-leftover-substance that can now be mistaken for hills on the horizon? Have you taken a breath of that air? That air that is so tainted by past mining activities that Kabwe has earned its place in the record books as one of the worst polluted towns in the world. I’m sure the only reason the Copperbelt towns are not on that list is because no one’s taken the trouble to independently guage the levels of pollution there now. There are promises of ‘the greenest mine in the world’ of course, but we all know Zambia has seen a million and one promises of the same sort and time and time again the only party that has seen ‘green’ is … not Zambia.
6% of damage to a national park may not seem like much to you, but to the people that are against it, it’s 6% too much. Zambia is a very large country with a relatively low population density. If you look at a map of Zambia you’ll find national parks cover less than 20% of the country. With all that’s left of the country, why would someone go and prospect in a reserve? An area that is set aside precisely so that no damage from activities like mining should ever harm it. Have we run out of copper, cobalt, gold in all other parts of the country?
3. So lower Zambezi is hard to get to and is not getting exposure as a tourist destination. So? Is that a reason to lay waste to it? Why not the government learn to do its own investments and put some money in it? Why not they build roads leading to it to encourage interest? ‘Mining activities have a far greater impact on the economy than tourism.’ I wish every Zambian could see this ‘impact’ that’s being referred to here, it’s so hard to trace where this mine money goes… And who says every part of the country should be exploited NOW? Why do we live as if our generation is the only one that should benefit from the resources of the country?
4. Why do we see digging up the ground and giving away minerals for a pittance as the only way to economic development? Are there no countries without minerals that are doing wonderfully economically? The countries that import our copper, they have none of their own yet they do way more with Zambian copper than does Zambia itself.
5. ‘…much less a problem.’ leaves room for a lot of speculation. I could just as well say that if the mines that are operating on the Copperbelt were to be transparent about the way they do business, you would have to retract your statement.
6. So basically, our regulations should be so easy to manipulate that a small Australian mine should have us cancelling parks and prospecting for areas to set up new ones? Is that the power you want foreign money to have on the government? And your view also shows you think the people that set these national park boundaries years ago weren’t smart enough to see these territories could hold minerals.
7. Have you been to Singapore and Hong Kong? Have you read their histories and their efforts towards reservation of nature? They have no copper and very little land but they work hard to ensure that even with the little space they have, nature remains an important aspect of their economies. The lack of national parks in Singapore is not due to having laid waste to what was God given. Perhaps you should read up on these countries before listing them to support careless destruction to natural reserves. They may just make you change your mind.
8. This is a valid point. Having a mine does indeed create business opportunities in a variety of ways. But that’s not what’s being disputed here. Set up a mine, sure thing. But, do so away from the reserves. Or better yet, set up a factory processing those mined minerals so a lay Zambian can see why investors come so far to dig them out of the earth. Would that not create business opportunities too? Economic development need not be destructive. Why do we insist on making it so for ourselves?
We have something that other countries do not have. Yes, others are not worse of for not having lions and cheetah and all sorts of plant life, but we also do not have what other countries have. The Hong Kong and Singapore that you listed have very strong financial sectors, and very developed shipping industries and manufacturing industries, to name a few. Does Zambia have these? You want us to be stripped of the little we do have for the promise of ‘billions of dollars of investment’ that will only eradicate the regions that mines are set in and who’s benefits will only be enjoyed in the short term by a few corrupt individuals in government?
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