Zimbabwe, Zambia

Kariba & Middle Zambezi

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A conflict of interests

A conflict of interests

Part of an audience at one EIS Public Hearing
Part of an audience at one EIS Public Hearing
Moses Nyoni

Lower Zambezi National Park is one of Africa’s most valuable and beautiful wildlife areas and a top ranking global tourist destination. This flagship park generates the third highest park revenues in Zambia through the wildlife/tourism industry, one of Zambia’s top three economic sectors. However, the future of the Park and its wildlife is uncertain.

In March 2011 a Large Scale Mining Licence for an area (245 km2 ) within the National Park, known as Kangaluwi. The 25 year licence was issued to Mwembeshi Resources Ltd, a subsidiary of an Australian listed company, Zambezi Resources Ltd. 

Zambian law requires submission and approval of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before a licence is granted, but in this case the licence was granted first, on the condition an EIS was subsequently undertaken, an unusual step for such a contentious development in a nationally protected area.

Mwembeshi Resources subsequently submitted an EIS to the Zambia Environmental Management Agency. This was rejected by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) in August 2012 after a series of public hearings, consultations, opposition and petitions by various stakeholders (Mining in Park thrown out ZT, December 2012).

In November 2012 Mwembeshi Resources made an appeal to the Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, the Hon Wilbur Simussa, MP. To date the Minister has not made an appeal decision.

In May industry media reported that the developer had provided additional information on the EIS to the Minister, which to date has not been made available to the public or stakeholders. Despite the absence of the appeal decision, Zambezi Resources has launched a $15 million recapitalization, apparently confident that the project will be approved.

In response to recent calls online and in national media from conservationists to petition against this development, the Minister has stated that “everyone can rest assured that there will be no shortcuts and no compromise with environmental standards whether the mine goes ahead or not”. He said the government was encouraging debate on how to handle the conflict between conservation and exploitation of natural resources. “Can mining and management of a game reserve be done at the same time in the same place? As pressure increases for the exploitation and extraction of minerals and other resources, we need to settle this question, especially that the conflict exists not only in the Lower Zambezi National Park but in other protected areas of Zambia where there are abundant minerals and other resources”. Simuusa also stated while government admitted that two fundamental requirements were overlooked when the mining licence was originally issued to the developers of the proposed mine, these matters were being addressed.

According to studies conducted by Zambezi Resources, the open-cast mining operation, which will have an operational footprint of 12.5 km2, will produce about 14,000 tonnes of copper concentrate per year over an initial 15 year period, as well as smaller amounts of gold, and the proposal also includes the option of developing local smelting and refining facilities.

Conservationists, NGOs and tour operators argue that allowing mining in the Lower Zambezi National Park will negatively affect the wider Park and set a dangerous precedent. An internationally important protected area intended to preserve critical ecological processes will be irreversibly damaged in return for short-term economic gain, as will the Park’s tourism industry and Zambia’s conservation reputation.

While the role of mining in Zambia’s national and local economic development is understood, concerned conservationists argue that mining should not be allowed in protected and ecologically sensitive areas such as the Lower Zambezi. As a unique and world-renowned ecosystem with immense long-term financial and ecological value to Zambia, the area deserves the highest level of protection for future generations.

More from the Zambezi Traveller:
Mining in Park thrown out (ZT Issue 11, December 2012).

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 13, June 2013)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Kariba & Middle Zambezi