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WHAT IMPACT WILL THE PROPOSED MINING ACTIVITIES IN THE LOWER ZAMBEZI NATIONAL PARK HAVE ON THE ZAMBIAN ECONOMY?

Lower Zambezi National Park

Elephants in the Lower Zambezi National Park

By Barnabas Zulu

On October 23, 2019, the Lusaka High Court granted Mwembeshi Resources Limited a go ahead to embark on mining activities in the controversial Kangaluwi open-cast copper mine project which is situated in the heart of the Lower Zambezi National park. This was after the dismissal of the appeal filed by six environmental organizations against the mine project on a legal technicality because the initial legal team that fought the case five years ago failed to file a record of appeal.

Zambezi River

Zambezi River

ANIMAL SPECIES IN THE LOWER ZAMBEZI

The Lower Zambezi National Park is one of the major national parks with a variety of animal species which includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects distributed in varying densities and in complex and diverse eco systems. Some of the large mammals found in the lower Zambezi National Park include elephant, hippo, buffalo, waterbuck, zebra, impala, bushbuck and kudu among many others. The carnivores found in the park include leopard, hyena and lions which are found in abundance.

Lower Zambezi National Park 3 1920X864

Sunset in the Lower Zambezi National Park

IMPACT OF THE PROPOSED MINE ACTIVITIES 

Tourism contributes about USD $40 million annually to the Zambian economy, of which 75% is from Livingstone where the lower Zambezi National Park is located and the remainder is from the other national parks dotted around the country according to the Development Services and Initiative Report of 2004 compiled by the Ministry of Tourism. The Lower Zambezi National Park is also a major economic contributor as the lodges located around the park employ hundreds of local people and supports thousands of activities found outside the park. 

The commencement of mining activities will mean that the country will lose out on foreign exchange which is desperately needed to resuscitate the country’s foreign reserves which have depleted over the years. Zambia’s foreign reserves are estimated around USD $1.2 billion as at end of March 2019 according to the Bank of Zambia.

Environmental activist Sharon Gilbert-Rivett, the mine threatens the thriving tourism economy and the livelihoods of everyone involved in tourism in the Lower Zambezi Valley. She said that the mine also threatens to derail Zambia’s recently unveiled tourism growth strategy which hinges on the country’s commitment to protecting its wilderness areas.

Recently, President Edgar Lungu made an announcement that government will do everything possible to ensure that the country’s tourism sector is developed and becomes the second contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and a major foreign exchange earner.

Rivett also said the site of the mine, which sits between two seasonal rivers which flow directly into the Zambezi River, will mostly likely cause pollution and damage to the environment in addition to destroying wildlife which will cripple the country’s rich tourism sector.

 “The Lower Zambezi National Park sits directly opposite Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site of the mine is between two seasonal rivers which flow directly into the Zambezi River. Its tailings dams will be located just a few hundred meters above the valley floor, next to these rivers,” she said.

And Economics Association of Zambia (EAZ) President Lubinda Habazoka said the proposed mining stifle the country’s tourism sector and affect the environment as well as wildlife.   

He said mining will create unplanned settlements in the national park as the mine will attract all sorts of people that will come to benefit from mining activities.

Habazoka warned that the country risk being blacklisted from accessing the green fund which is given to country’s promoting climate change and this will negatively affect the country’s tourism sector.

“Zambia will have no right to talk about climate change. The world operates like a cartel. Once you approve mining in the National Park, no green funds will come into the country and tourists will never come. We shall be blacklisted by tourists because of these actions. The blacklisting won’t be formal but in the minds of tourists. The same way customers companies running racists adverts,” he said.

Habazoka has since called for engagement among stakeholders to ensure that mining activities are stopped in the Lower Zambezi National Park.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

Since the country is benefitting massively from tourism and the Lower Zambezi National Park is one of the main economic ventures, there is need for government to intervene into the matter and protect wild and human life found inside and within the periphery of the park. However, it should be understand that government intervention into the matter will come with its own package of costs but at the moment they have no choice but to protect the environment.

 President Edgar Lungu in his address to Parliament this year gave an assurance that his government was doing everything possible to fight climate change and this is one such fight that he should start with in eliminating the scourge. Destruction of forest will have drastic impact in Zambia which is already facing changing weather patterns. These changing weather patterns have affected the country’s economy negatively as the energy and agriculture sectors are limping due to poor rainfall patterns.

In addition, there is need for stakeholder engagement on the matter and find the way forward in which the country’s economy can be protected from harmful activities.