Hold mining firms liable for damaging land


Studies have shown that due to climate change, the planet is getting warmer at a faster rate due to human activities.

In our last issue, we ran a story on how floods were ravaging some countries in the Southern African region, bringing to the fore the need to take drastic measures to alleviate the effects of climate change.

During the current rainy season, floods have been a menace in some parts of Zimbabwe, both rural and urban, leaving thousands of families homeless and needing relocation to safe grounds. South Africa, Mozambique and Zambia have also had to contend with the effects of floods. 

The Great Lakes region has also not been spared, as dozens of people were left dead by floods in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.

Besides being a danger to human life, livestock, wild animals and other living creatures, the floods also bring with them hunger because crops are washed away or destroyed in the fields. On the other hand, climate change is also the cause of the numerous droughts that Southern Africa and other parts of the continent have continually endured over the years.

In this issue, we carry a story on how mining activities, one of the many human activities responsible for climate change, are contributing to the degradation of the environment around which mining conglomerates are operating.

Mining has often been associated with deforestation, land degradation, air pollution, and disruption of the ecosystem. All these environmental hazards result in climate change, which explains why today its either we have plenty of water (floods) or none at all (drought).

Both scenarios are unwelcome to humans and other living creatures because they leave a trail of destruction in terms of floods and result in famine in the case of drought.

African countries must move with haste to ensure that the mining corporations doing business in their territories adhere to environmentally friendly methods of mining when devouring the earth in search of the highly priced minerals. Talks aimed at negotiating a binding climate change agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have not registered much progress.

Africa should be alarmed at the rate at which climate change is taking its toll on the continent and, of course, elsewhere.

Because Africa is clamouring for much-needed investment in the mining sector so that its vast mineral resources can be exploited for the benefit of its people (in terms of employment) and governments (by way of revenue collected through taxes), it seems the continent is paying little attention to the environmental damage mining conglomerates are causing.

These big corporates are also responsible for emitting greenhouse gases in their mother countries all in the name of making huge profits for their shareholders.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the governments of the countries where the mining firms are headquartered continue to stall the negotiations for a binding climate change agreement. 

But Africa needs to take a more robust approach because it appears the continent is on the worst end of the effects of climate change as can be proved by the recurring droughts and floods in some parts of the continent.

Climate change decimates agricultural production leaving the majority of the people on the continent to rely on governments, which are already overburdened, for food aid.

Extraction of water for mining activities has led to the reduction of ground water table and desertification.

This bodes African countries to demand that environmental laws are observed when the conglomerates do their mining activities. 

The days of gloating over investment flowing into the mining sector without evaluating the damages to the environment are gone. African countries should take stock of the activities of mining companies because the continent suffers more since it carries considerable deposits of most of the sought after minerals.

Research has shown that African countries do have legislation and regulations in place to govern the operations of mining firms. 

But what is lacking is the monitoring and implementation of the laws because the tendency by governments and other authorities is to look at the brighter side of employment creation and revenue generation, forgetting that future generations will also want to live in a clean environment.

Studies have also concluded that most mining communities in the Southern African region and the continent as a whole are characterised by poor environmental and social conditions.

February 2014
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