Toxic pollution from mine in Zambia – setback for health MDGs

This will be a longer blog than usual, since the health problems caused by some mining organizations in Zambia (and probably elsewhere) have made me so angry. Two events came together in the past couple of days that brings this topic to the fore.

  • A two page article from The Times (London) for Friday 20th May, 2011
  • The two day Zambia Linking Conferencein Wells, Somerset, UK 21st – 22nd May 2011, p.14-15.

The Times article reveals that a mining company in Mufulira (in the Zambian Copperbelt) received a large loan from the European Investment Bank to capture sulphur emissions, but it has captured only a half of them and appears to have little concern that they were “consistently exceeding”  environmental limits for sulphur dioxide pollution.

At the conference we heard and saw at first hand the effects of bad practice in the exploitation of minerals (and people). A School Exchange Group visiting Mufulira had taken soil samples from the various sites they had visited. The results were horrific in terms of acidity and degradation of the soil as measured by pH, potassium and other indicators.

Photographs showed that food crops and fruit trees which grow quite easily in nearby areas protected from the prevailing wind directions were very different from those in the affected areas, which are almost bare of grass and vegetation in general. Even the banana trees, which tolerate acidity quite well, are adversely affected. I can assure you that the contrast was dramatic.

We also heard from a few Zambians who had worked in or for the mines in Mufulira that on at least one occasion the pollution levels of the water had brought an outbreak of diarrhoea and sickness that was so severe that it was first thought to be an outbreak of cholera – some people died.

I talked to others who said that this was not an isolated case. Water pollution and dumping of potentially toxic waste is known from other mining towns where there is a community link. Such rogue companies from overseas get specially low taxes from the Zambian government; their chief executives can earn salaries in six figures; and they create long term problems in clearing poisoned water resources and soils.

Health and the environment are closely linked; the improvement of one cannot be achieved without the restoration of the other. The four MDGs relating to health will never be met in Mufulira unless the international community insists that corporate responsibility is taken seriously on behalf of the workforce and their community.

The participants at the Conference have signed a statement expressing their concern which will be sent to appropriate institutions.

Jean Shaw


About jgreigshaw

I work with Partnerships in Health Information which promotes partnership between libraries in Africa and the UK with an emphasis in African leadership. I have visited Kenya, Mali, Uganda and Zambia though Phi has contacts in many more African countries.
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