World Bank funds lead clean-up in Kabwe

By Jeff Kapembwa

LUSAKA- Zambia and the World Bank have formalised a $66 million loan financing to mitigate and reduce lead pollution in the former mining town of Kabwe, were many residents have over the years suffered a host of health complications as a result of mining activities that started in the early 1990s.

Environmental and health experts noted that the majority of Kabwe residents, one of the world’s most polluted areas and lying 150 km north of the capital Lusaka, suffer from respiratory, brain and abdominal related diseases.

This is caused by breathing air or drinking water from contaminated water sources. Many expectant mothers are also experiencing anti-natal problems due to lead poisoning.

This is despite the fact that copper, lead and zinc mining activities ceased in the early 2000, during which former miners did not undertake mitigation measures to avert the future catastrophe.

The World Bank has since agreed to fund the clean-up, following a joint feasibility study undertaken by the global lender and the Zambian government.

“The good news is that the Zambian government and the World Bank board have agreed to release the funds (loan) to assist in mitigating the effects of lead on the people as well as protect the environment from further effects,” Ina-Marlene Ruthenberg, the World Bank’s country manager for Zambia said in an interview.

The credit secured under the International Development Association (IDA) financing, according to the Bretton Woods institution, would also assist mitigate effects caused by mining in other areas including Chingola and Mufulira, all mining towns.

The mitigation will include remediation of contaminated hotspots and improvement of environmental infrastructure, enhancing institutional capacity for environmental governance, compliance, and reducing environmental health risks through localized interventions, World Bank lead environmental specialist, Sanjay Srivastava, explained.

The financing will further assist in ensuring affected municipalities undertake income generation opportunities that will enhance community involvement in addressing environmental health risks.

“We seek to among other mitigation measures disinfect or close the water bodies as well as cover the affected soil potions with black soil so that we control the effects of lead on the people, many of whom are suffering from a myriad of diseases contracted over the years,” said Kabwe town clerk Ronald Daka of the affected areas which include Chowa and Makululu townships, which are nearer to the sites where mining was undertaken until operations ceased in the early 2000.

The mining sector is a major contributor to Zambia’s economic growth, but a long history of mining has left a legacy of environmental catastrophe, partly due to poor enforcement of environmental standards, which now pose a health hazard mostly to the poor.

The mining and environment remediation and improvement project builds on another World Bank financed project – the Copperbelt Environmental Project (CEP), which ran from 2003 to 2011. Remediation activities and management of contaminated hotspots will benefit an estimated 70,000 people living in hotspots and an estimated 30,000 children.

The beneficiaries will access direct health interventions such as Blood Lead Levels testing, treatment and nutritional supplementation, as well as education and awareness about the lead poisoning, the statement adds.

A recent visit to Kabwe town found that despite the effects of lead on human life, some women said despite it being a hazard on their lives and the environment, it was also a source of livelihood.

A brisket of lead or zinc mined from dumps fetches an average $0,20 cents to US$1 when sold by the roadside to unsuspecting customers.

But a recent research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) reveals that young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, including effects on the development of the brain and nervous system. Lead, also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage.

The blood levels of lead in children in Kabwe are also known to be very high – a recent study by environmental experts revealed that every one of 246 children tested were above the safety limit of five micrograms per decilitre of blood.

The vast majority was over 45 micrograms per decilitre, which causes brain, liver and hearing damage, and eight were over 150 micrograms per decilitre, at which point death is the likely outcome.

June 2017
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