Sustainable Development in Zambia: Experiences and Ways Forward
The mining industry’s impacts on Zambia
Zambia is largely a mining country with abundant deposits of copper, cobalt, emeralds, coal,amethyst, gold, lead and zinc. Historically, the industry has been a pillar of Zambia’s economy and continues to do so today. It is also the country’s largest foreign exchange earner. However, volatility of world market prices in the past led to instability in the sector and, thus, the economy as a whole.
This was exacerbated by pervasive state control and economic policies that placed a high dependency on the mining sector. In fact, despite the rich endowment of natural resources, Zambia ranks lowly on the Human Development Index and is considered one of the poorest highly indebted countries of the world.
While many empirical studies have been conducted on the impact of mining on sustainable development, hardly any extensive research has been carried out on the impact of mining on the local livelihood of the people and the environment and biodiversity. Existing information does not incorporate macroeconomic trends like economic growth, and the impact of mining on the environment and biodiversity in Zambia.
Mining regulation schemes
The liberalization policies brought about by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank under the Washington Consensus led to a large number of developing countries including Zambia, introducing new regulatory regimes that promoted foreign direct investment which has since been growing at a high pace in recent years. The speed of extraction of minerals in resource rich countries has invariably increased at a very high rate, posing serious problems to sustainable development.
After the year 2000, the commodity market recorded an upturn in prices mainly due to increased demand for commodity metals in fast growing economies like China and India. This also coincided with a rise in the mineral production in the country. The volume of copper exports has in recent year’s registered sustained growth, increasing from 201,000 metric tons in 2000 to 423,000 metric tons in 2005. Consequently, Zambia’s economy has recorded high growth over the last 5 years with GDP growth averaging 4.8% per annum.
By its nature, mining is a highly disruptive activity. It requires large tracts of land, consumes significant quantities of water and leaves a lot of waste materials. The modern mining techniques prefer open pit mining, which destroys vegetation covering and leaves long-term damage to the physical structure of the land.
One of the most important issues in mining is waste management to minimize the long-term environmental effects. Mining wastes have a profound effect on the surrounding ecosystem. If they are not chemically stable, they can be a permanent source of pollution to the natural water system. This results in alterations in quality, quantity and availability of surface water or ground water. Such changes can affect the spawning grounds of fish and the habitats of bottom-dwelling creatures. Acid drainage may be the most widespread threat to aquatic species. Such effects may lead to extinctions, or may restrict access to species that local communities depend on, such as fish, vegetables, and medicinal plants.
Addressing the problem
To counter the environmental and social impacts of mining, the government should formulate clear policies and regulations for the management of natural resources. The formulation process should ensure that policies reflect the interest of a wide range of actors including communities, civil service, workers’ representatives, investors and donors. Standard international practice requires mining projects to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
The effective participation of stakeholders like indigenous and local communities is a pre-condition for a successful EIA (Convention on Biological Diversity, 2006). Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), is also now widely applied and integrated in national procedures for environmental assessment. SEA is a a set of tools that identify and address the environmental consequences and stakeholder concerns in the development of policies, plans and programmes and other high level initiatives. SEA involves structuring public and government debate in the preparation of policies, plans and programmes, assessing environmental consequences and their interrelationship with social and economic aspects and ensuring that the results and discussions are taken into consideration when formulating decisions and implementing them.
Sustainable development research in Zambia
Despite the economic success of the mining industry in the recent past, a majority of Zambians continue to suffer extreme poverty. As of December 2005, about 67% of the population was said to be living on less than US$1 a day.
The economic reforms experienced in the mining sector led to a loss of 8,000 jobs. It is estimated that the 8,000 individuals supported at least five other family members. Most of these unemployed miners resorted to economic activities like charcoal burning, shift cultivation farming methods and small-scale mining to sustain their livelihoods, leading to further environmental degradation.
The mining community and the surrounding neighborhoods also depended heavily on the mining companies for the provision of social amenities such as health, education, and sanitation. As these services were no longer offered by the new mine owners, it became difficult for most of the locals to meet their basic needs (John Kangwa, 2001). This undermines the country’s efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals by the targeted 2015.
UNU-IAS research activities on mining in Zambia
UNU-IAS is undertaking research to determine whether the mining industry in Zambia has a positive impact on sustainable development and environmental management. This entails assessing the impact of mining in meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The findings are expected to have clear policy implications on economic development, environmental management and the country’s Millennium Development Goals attainment. The outcomes of this research are expected to result in:
(i) Contributing to the ongoing debate on the importance of mining to sustainable development in Zambia,
(ii) Enhancement of economic policies on natural resource extraction to promote equity and transparency,
(iii) Highlighting the impact of mining on the environment, biodiversity and ecosystems as a whole, and;
(iv) Advocating for the adoption of more robust and internationally-accepted and recognized procedures and regulations for environmental management.
For further information:
Former Intern, UNU-IAS Biodiplomacy Programme