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Zambian government cancels plan to build mine inside Zambezi national park

The government of Zambia has cancelled its plan to build Kangaluwi mine inside the Lower Zambezi National Park. The Tourism and Arts Minister Ronald Chitotela announced the project won’t go forth because a report that was submitted by the environmental regulator has expired.

In addition, there had been questions raised on the viability of the project proposal as well as the technical quality and transparency of the information being shared by the Australia-listed Mwembeshi Resource Company, which is seeking to develop the mine. However, this is quickly swept under the rug by the fact that the current Mines and Mineral Development Act of 2008 doesn’t contain any substantial provisions to guide the implementation of extractive activities in protected areas.

According to media reports, the Zambian legislature requires a prospective company to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for such proposals. In the case of the Kangaluwi mine, the embattled company failed to provide a robust assessment of the project’s potential social, environmental and economic impacts.

Moreover, the EIA dated February 2012 was rejected in September that year by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) based on technical grounds. However, an appeal by the proponents was successful, as then Minister for Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Harry Kalaba overturned ZEMA’s decision.

The main political argument in support of the Kangaluwi mine is that the firm would have created employment for local communities, particularly those living around the district capital Luangwa. This is because the town sits at the intersection of the Zambezi and Luangwa rivers. The latter also subject to a large-scale project, in this case a hydroelectric dam, that was subsequently cancelled. Yet no guarantees were in place for the mining firm to engage only personnel from local communities.

Environmental activist James Carlington, who had launched a petition urging the Zambian government to immediately halt plans for the Kangaluwi mine, highlighted Zambia’s obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as the agreement of 17 Zambezi chiefs in 2008 to prohibit all mining in the Zambezi Basin.

The Lower Zambezi saga provides great lessons on the challenges currently facing protected area management and coordination among government ministries that play a key role in ensuring that these reserves are well secured.

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