Kabwe Mines Clean Up Is A Health Solution

The Zambia government has been called on to make comprehensive efforts in cleaning up the contaminated former lead mine in Kabwe, the capital of Zambia’s Central province, by Environment Africa and Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch released a video in which youth activists from Environment Africa describe life in a dangerously polluted town evidence that urgent actions are needed to remedy the situation.

Kabwe is renowned as one of the most polluted hot spots in Africa and the world for its contamination from a former lead and zinc mine. Notably, it was, originally owned directly or indirectly by Anglo-American and other British colonial companies, though later nationalized, and closed in 1994.

Though despite the mine’s closure, the toxic waste was never cleaned up, that’s the aftermath of mining activities. As a result, this lead dust from its large uncovered waste dumps blows over to nearby residential areas such as Chowa, Kasanda, and Makululu, putting the health of 200,000 people at risk.

Based on Medical researchers estimate that says over 95 percent of children living near the former mine in Kabwe have elevated lead levels in their blood. The World Health Organization lists lead as one of 10 chemicals representing a “major public health concern,” even worse is children are at more risk.

In 2019, an in-depth Human Rights Watch investigation showed the harmful impacts of lead contamination on children’s rights to health, information, and education. Thus declaring up to half of them in need of urgent medical intervention which requires response to safeguard these lives.

In consideration of the fact that lead is a toxic metal with no safe level of exposure. As it causes stunted growth, learning difficulties, memory loss, developmental delays, and many other irreversible health effects, not forgetting it can also cause coma and death.

For the video, three youth activists from Kabwe conducted interviews about lead contamination in Kabwe with different interlocutors. Interviews were conducted with a boy who has been exposed to lead and his parents; a geologist who has studied lead in Kabwe; and the Member of Parliament for Kabwe Central, Hon. Chrizoster Phiri seeking facts.

a miner passes by the mine

“This is Kabwe, this is our home,” said Mwelwa Lungu, a youth group member at Environment Africa. “And we are entitled to live in a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment that doesn’t make us sick.”

According to Juliane Kippenberg, associate child rights director at Human Rights Watch, it’s crucial for action towards developing a comprehensive remediation program for the former lead mine in Kabwe.

“The government should seek technical and financial support for remediation from companies responsible for the pollution, in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle, as well as from donor agencies and governments,” said Juliane.

In March 2022, President Hakainde Hichilema instructed the Ministry of Green Economy and Environment to establish a technical committee to “address and lead the process of comprehensive remediation” in Kabwe. The Ministry has also put forward the vision of Kabwe as a “Green City” on top of “buried lead surfaces,” but no concrete plans have been released as the people await to be salvaged from the harms of lead.

With a World Bank loan, Zambia’s government has been undertaking some limited efforts to address the contamination in Kabwe: it has tested and treated some children and cleaned up a small number of homes and a highly polluted canal. Although these measures will quickly be reversed if the source of the contamination itself – the mine waste – is not cleaned up and continues to pollute the surrounding areas.

“Since it’s more than a year after the president issued the directive, it is important for the technical committee to promptly begin working on a viable permanent solution for the crisis. This would entail a concrete feasible plan for the comprehensive cleanup of the Kabwe mine,” Environment Africa and Human Rights Watch said.

In the video, Hon. Phiri, the Member of Parliament for Kabwe Central, emphasizes a need for the government “to find a lasting solution” and “clean up the waste piles at the former mine.”

Caleb Mulenga Bwalya stresses that as young people and duty-bearers time is running out on us and we can’t keep on giving excuses. ” The government needs to act now,” he comments.

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