Where copper lost most of its value in the past, today its booming, because its a much needed component for wind turbines and electric cars: an electric car needs six times more copper then a conventional car. Unfortunately the clean image of wind energy and electrical cars has a flip side: the copper industry is highly toxic and environmentally unfriendly.
Zambia is one of the top ten copper producing countries in the world. Zambia’s economy is largely dependent on copper and the mining sector accounts for over 80% per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. According to The Natural Resource Governance Institute, there is ample evidence that the Zambian government loses significant amounts of mining sector revenues due to tax avoidance by multinational companies operating there as well as lax government regulations and enforcement. In a country that has extremely high levels of poverty and is in dire need to resources – only a small part of the population is benefitting from the copper mines.
Apart from that, the copper mining is also negatively affecting the communities working or living in the mining areas. For example, copper mining activities pollute air, water and land which leads to health problems for the surrounding communities. It also degrades the quality of the water and land which prohibits the people depending on it from using it for their food production, livestock and other activities. The noise and vibrations coming from the mines are a nuisance for the people living in close proximity to the mines and have caused deterioration of housing and other infrastructure. Furthermore, in some areas the copper mines have taken up areas of land that were previously used by communities for growing or gathering food. This and the ensuing deforestation by the mining companies has affected communities’ food security, impacted their livelihoods and has in some cases led to displacement. Apart from that, the copper mining has also affected social and cultural factors. For example, bad working conditions for the people who have taken up jobs in the mine, child labor and dependency on the mines as an only source of income since the possibility to produce food has been taken away. Women are bearing the brunt of the burden as they are, on the one hand, less able to remedy the loss of income and food production by taking up a job in the mine or by being eligible for compensation. On the other hand, they are impacted more as due to the men taking up mining jobs, they are solely responsible for care duties. These care duties increase as they have to, for example, walk further for the collection of water due to contamination by the mines and have to care for sick family members who have been affected by the pollution.
About the two mining communities:
Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) operating in Chingola (Copperbelt).
The Tsopane community lives next to the KCM Ngancha open pit mine. Chingola, an area in the northwest of Zambia, has been home to the Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources – a mining conglomerate based in London and Mumbai – for 70 years. In its 50-year plan KCM has announced to invest 1$ billion in the next phase of growth. However, the communities living in the mining surroundings are suffering due to pollution of air and water which is resulting in health problems for the people. A 2014 ActionAid study reported that KCM’s continuous pollution of the river Kafue has resulted in health problems and loss of livelihoods for tens of thousands Zambians. In September 2015, a group of Zambian villagers filed a lawsuit against Vedanta Resources in UK court over water pollution caused by its subsidiary’s copper mining operations. On 27 May 2016, an English High Court judge ruled that the lawsuit against Vedanta Resources may proceed. However, in June 2016, the companies said they will appeal the English court’s May decision to allow the lawsuit to proceed, by challenging its jurisdiction in English court. Last July 2017 the London’s Court of Appeal has started hearing arguments as to whether the Zambian have the right to make a claim in English courts. In October 2017, London’s Court of Appeal on Friday threw out miner Vedanta’s attempt to block the Zambians’ legal action over alleged pollution of their villages.
Mopani copper mine:
The Kankoyo community is affected by the Mopani copper mine in the Mufulira district of Zambia. People live next to the Mufulira mine, smelter, concentrator and refinery, Producing 35,000 tonnes of copper ore each year, it is one of the world’s largest copper mines. The parent company of the Mopani copper mine is the Canadian mining company Glencore. The Mopani copper mine is responsible for high environmental pollution of the area due to its use of old technologies, leaking chemicals and through dumps and old sewage systems. As a result of this pollution, the people living around the mine are no longer able to use the land for their food production and to sustain an income. Even more, the mining company has taken up land that was previously used by the communities for farming, gathering firewood and collecting water. Lastly, due to the pollution the people in the surrounding areas suffer from health problems and there have been accidents due to explosions caused by the mine. As with the KCM case – women are affected more, for example, when the discussions about compensation for land took place they weren’t consulted. Even though, they are impacted more by the loss of land due to their care duties such as gathering wood, collecting water and providing food.
In June 2016 Glencore was taken to court as a Zambian politician died after inhaling toxic fumes released by the copper mine. As a result, his widow received 30 000 pounds in damages.