Zambia halts mine in Lower Zambezi National Park

5 Sep 2023 by The Water Diplomat

Lower Zambezi National Park

On the 29th of August, the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) clarified its decision on the 24th of August to  cancel the decision letter issued to Mwembeshi Resources Limited in 2021 pertaining to its large-scale open pit copper mining project in Lower Zambezi National Park. According to ZEMA, the permission originally granted to the company in 2021 was provided under very strict conditions, stating that “given the fact this mine was going to be set up in the middle of one of the country’s most serene national parks, it follows that no margin of error should be allowed in ensuring adherence to environmental guidelines”.

In May this year, ZEMA found that Mwembeshi Resources had violated a number of environmental conditions pertaining to the Kangaluwi copper mine. At that time, ZEMA ordered Mwembeshi Resources Limited to cease all mining and construction activities in Lower Zambezi National Par. It further ordered the company to submit a site environmental restoration plan for the degraded area in the national park.

Earlier in the year, Zambia’s ruling party, the United Party for National Development had given the green light for the project and the Green Economy and Environment minister, Collins Nzovu, stated that the project would go ahead under strict conditions to be set by ZEMA. Zambia is heavily dependent on copper exports for its foreign revenue, accounting for 70% of export revenues. The government hopes to triple copper production by 2030, profiting from high global prices for the commodity, but most mines date from the 1920’s and cannot rapidly upscale their production.

The decision to approve the Mwembeshi project triggered action by environmental organisations, which had been working for years to halt the development. A 2012 Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report advised against copper mining in the park, but the government approved the project in 2014. This prompted a group of environmentalists to file a court injunction against the project, which was successful. However, this injunction was lifted in 2021 and the impact assessment was reapproved, leading to new discussions around the project.

In its reaction to NEMA’s recent cancellation of the project, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) commended ZEMA for its decision, stating that civil society organisations such as WWF, Conservation Advocates Zambia, and Conservation Lower Zambezi, had worked hard to highlight the negative impacts the copper mine would have on the park and the Zambezi River - as well as the people and nature that depend on it. In particular, the mine was expected to have significant negative impacts - such as pollution - on the river, including its freshwater fisheries that are critical for the food security and livelihoods of communities in the Zambian province of Luangwa and downstream in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.