Copper Mining Giant Settles With Zambian Villagers Over Historic Pollution Abuses

4 Feb 2021 by The Water Diplomat
LUSAKA, Zambia

Zambian villagers whose land and water was polluted by effluent discharged by the operators of the world’s second-largest copper mine have reached an undisclosed settlement agreement with the mine’s owner.

A joint statement issued 18 January said: “Without admission of liability, Vedanta Resources Limited and Konkola Copper Mines Plc confirm that they have agreed, for the benefit of local communities, the settlement of all claims brought against them by Zambian claimants.”

The claim, issued in 2015 by more than 2,500 villagers, centred on pollution from the Nchanga Copper Mine run by Konkola (KCM). It described how toxic effluent discharge from the mine damaged local land and waterways used for irrigation, and the use of polluted water for drinking, washing and bathing caused residents severe health problems. The alleged contamination is understood to have begun in 2005.

Canadian pollution experts employed to advise KCM’s parent company Vedanta in 2010 confirmed “constant contamination” of streams, and called for 17 major and minor actions to stop the spillage of polluted water into the environment, according to a report published in The Guardian in 2015. The article goes on to say that the villagers’ claims were backed by a leaked letter from a KCM doctor stating that water collected for testing from Shimulala village in 2011 was unfit for human consumption.

The villagers were seeking damages, remediation and cessation. However, concerned they would not be able to achieve justice in Zambia, they fought to bring their case to court in England. Although Vedanta is an Indian company, it is listed on the UK stock exchange.

In a landmark ruling in April 2019, the British Supreme Court ruled that the case could be brought against Vedanta in the English courts because they owned the villagers a duty of care. In its ruling, it agreed with the claimants that there was a real risk they would not be able to achieve justice in the Zambian courts due to lack of funding and legal expertise available.

The Nchanga Copper Mine employs a workforce of around 16,000, making it Zambia’s biggest private employer.