The Wild Foundation in 2008 carried details of an impending copper-mining threat to the integrity of the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. With the issue early in 2011 of a Large-Scale Mining License to the Australian owned Zambezi Resources and its Zambian subsidiary, Mwembeshi Resources, the threat is now very real, particularly given the recent actions of President Banda in launching the Ichimpe Mine on behalf of its Chinese owners before the Environmental Council of Zambia had approved the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
This action is similar to the laying of a foundation stone on former President Mwanawasa’s behalf for a proposed 36-hole golf course, two hotels and 350 chalets in the tiny Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park – again before an EIS had been approved or even submitted.
An EIS is currently being written for the proposed Kangaluwi Copper Project (two open-pit mines, two deep mines, a tailings dam and dump, and other extensive infrastructure) on Mwembeshi Resource’s behalf by the consultants, GeoQuest. They will be considerably exercised to explain away a physical invasion that would ravage in excess of 50 sq. km of the escarpment area of the park, and that would contaminate the Zambezi and downstream ecosystems. That the scheme has been allowed – after consideration by both the Director of Mine Safety and the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) – to proceed beyond the initial environmental brief to a full Environmental Impact Statement poses considerable risks.
Apart from what a President can do who is about to return to his farm, the Minister of Tourism & Environmental Affairs may overthrow the decision of the Environment Council should they give the scheme the green light, leaving Zambians and those who value our ecological and cultural heritage to the mercy of a judiciary and an executive with scant separation of powers.
Once the EIS has been handed in and studied by the ECZ, the public will be afforded an opportunity to judge the EIS. But NGOs in Zambia appear to be unaware of the latest developments and are generally loth to take on ‘Big Man’ Government.
A general election looms, and other mining operations already exceed the capacity of the Zambian Government to protect the environment and the people. Attempts will be made to restrict the battle to those whose interests are locally excited.
But the Lower Zambezi NP is, with the Mana Pools NP and World Heritage Site across the river in Zimbabwe, supposed to form the future Mana-Lower Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. And most of the middle Zambezi on the Zimbabwe side was last year declared as the Mid Zambezi Biosphere Reserve (MZBR).
Currently there are moves afoot in UNESCO to have Lower Zambezi NP declared a World Heritage Site, and to enjoin the Chiawa customary land (part of it Game Management Area) with the MZBR. Given rumours of large lodges in the military-industrial style being proposed for the Zimbabwe side of the river, the Zambezi – as we know it, could disappear.