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Amid Drought, Dangerous Mining In Hwange Threatens People And Animals

Deka river system has become unsafe for humans and wildlife due to waste and pollutants deposited in it. Image by The Citizen Bulletin

BY CALVIN MANIKA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | MAY 13, 2022

A dry spell might invite early hunger for Hwange families who rely on subsistence farming for food — and now, dangerous mining methods in the area could make the drought-induced problems more dire.

HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — Gideon Shoko looks at his wilted crops in despair following a poor rain season.

The early departure of the rains has put the livelihoods of people living within the Deka River in Hwange, Matabeleland North, under threat. Shoko is amongst locals who are uncertain of their livelihoods.

The dire situation faced by Shoko and other locals is made a lot worse by companies discharging waste, and other pollutants into the local river, making the water unsafe for humans, domestic animals and wildlife.

Shoko, also a fisherman, survives by selling fish he catches from the Deka River. But now he is desperate as the fish is depleting, poisoned by the chemicals.

Of late, fish were found dead, floating in the river.

Other villagers in Mashala, Chachachunda, Mwemba and close areas used the river for domestic use before the water was contaminated, threatening some wildlife like fish and aquatic plants.

With long dry spells and high temperatures in Hwange, water remains scarce, forcing wild animals to drink from the contaminated river.

“It’s not safe to drink the water anymore. It used to be a source of life to us especially with the perennial water challenges we face,” Shoko says.

“I am afraid for the wild animals like elephants which normally roam around this area. In case they are found dead, we are the first suspects as villagers, while the real perpetrators are in offices.”

Big coal mining companies are improperly discharging liquid waste including sulphur and other toxic chemicals from their operations into surrounding water bodies. . Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) from Colliery’s abandoned underground activities has been blamed as the chief culprit of Deka River pollution.

Though some companies claim that they have built alkalisation dams within their mining systems, there is overwhelming evidence that the discharge is finding its way to some water bodies within the precincts of the Hwange National Park.

Hwange coal companies include Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL), Makomo Resources, Chilota now Garlpex, South Mining and other emerging coke production companies.

Hwange town is situated in the confines of the Hwange National Park, making the movement of wild animals including lions and elephants common.

Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG) Director Farai Muguwu says the Deka River issue is a matter of concern, and needs urgent action.

“We have had frequent cases of elephants dying in numbers in recent years. We pay attention to elephants because of their importance to tourism but many other animal species might be dying unnoticed,” Muguwu says.

Muguwu says the effluent from some mining companies finds its way into streams in the Chaba area which is on the border with the national park.

“The possibility of wildlife drinking from these streams and dams is very high, especially when we factor in climate change which is drying up water sources in the national park,” he says.

CNRG says the mining companies were not following the environmentally friendly procedures of discharging the effluent.

“The entire Hwange mining district is an ecological disaster where the environmental cost of coal mining, power generation and gasification far outweighs the supposed economic benefits. The Environmental Management Agency appears hamstrung due to political interference.”
Farai Muguwu, CNRG Director

Environmentalists say though they have not heard a case of any wild animal found dead in the Deka area, it is common knowledge that the animals drink from the water source.

Elephants have been found dead in various parts of the Hwange National Park.

In 2021, the Greater Whange Residents Trust (GWRT) took various Hwange companies to court through their lawyer, Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA).

In a case brief, ZELA submitted that the Mashala and Makwa community were suffering due to the high levels of water pollution in the Deka River

“The members are of the view that the water pollution is as a result of effluents discharged into the river by various mining companies who are not being put to task. Among our client’s members and other members of the community several cases of rotting teeth, swollen stomach, death of aquatic life and livestock and stunted growth of crops have been reported,” notes ZELA.

Villagers feel discharging effluent in water sources must attract stiffer penalties.

Hwange Colliery Company Limited...Villagers call for stiffer penalties for mining companies discharging effluent in water sources.

Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) from Colliery’s abandoned underground activities has been blamed as the chief culprit of Deka river pollution.

Primary studies done by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) revealed that acid mine drainage (AMD) from the mining activities in the area affects aquatic life. Coal dust is also pointed as a contributor.

Experts say pollution in the river is causing a reduction in oxygen levels, leading to plant life decay.

This in turn is damaging river water quality, leading to broader impacts for all life in the river. Proliferation of toxic algae species also impacts the health of both wildlife and humans.

An independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for Hwange coal mining activities prepared by the CNRG in 2017 says vehicular movements create the potential for substances such as oils and lubricants to leak into the surrounding environment.

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“Once in the environment, these substances are carried into the aquatic ecosystem via water runoff.  Aquatic life within the Deka River has been affected by these pollutants,” says the report.

But Garlpex Mine Private Limited Director, Dr. Cephas Msipa says the effluent discharged into the water is not as harmful.

“There is no evidence for the claims. We are actually developing a school to teach villagers and other locals’ fish farming and breeding in mined out zones” says Msipa.

EMA Matabeleland North Education and Publicity Officer, Mildred Matunga says the body will not hesitate to penalize companies that pollute the environment.

“Where a company operates out of spark, enforcement of the law is done. This ensures that polluters take care of their waste. Monthly and quarterly inspections are done to check on adherence to standards,” Matunga says.

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