Hwange environmental audit to aid in tackling community concerns
By Ndanatsiwa Tagwireyi
The Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) is optimistic that the current environmental audit being undertaken in Hwange will result in the collaborated efforts among coal mining companies, coking coal companies, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the government in solving environmental hazards.
This has come amid indications that the CNRG Hwange environmental audit is expected to be complete by mid-May 2022, with findings going to be shared with responsible authorities including the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), the government and mining companies.
Hemant More (2019) define an environmental audit as an environmental management tool for measuring the effects of certain activities on the environment against set criterial of standards.
Speaking to the Mining Vision Magazine, CNRG Executive Director Farai Maguwu expressed concern over some of the environmental hazards posed in the mining areas of Hwange. According to Frontiers in Environmental Science, although mining and mineral processing are vital for many economies in the Global South, they are associated with enormous challenges of managing potentially devastating environmental impacts.
Hwange is not immune to environmental concerns posed by coal mining activities as seen on available literature which highlight how communities are grappling with some of the negative effects of coal mining on the environment.
“Some of these environmental hazards are causing fatalities and disabilities; these issues are usually swept under the carpet so our aim is to create a document that will give us a platform to engage relevant stakeholders on the findings,” Maguwu exclusively revealed. “When we are done, we visit the mining companies in question and let them see the findings from the community for them to respond before we go to the government with the audit.”
“We do not expect the government to respond to allegations but we expect to come up with a framework with the government, EMA, and the companies on how do we resolve these issues.”
CNRG Executive Director highlighted that the issue of coal seam fires has been put forward as an environmental hazard posing threat to human beings, flora and fauna in Hwange mining areas. The Global Forest Watch note that coal seam fires occur underground when a layer of coal in the earth’s crust is ignited; due to the out-of-sight nature of the fires, they are often hard to detect and hard to extinguish.
“In December, a certain lady died because of this. We recorded about 8 children who were disabled permanently because of coal seam fires,” Sometimes it happens when the child will be running, herding cattle, playing football and so forth, no one is taking responsibility for those fires so these are some of the issues that we want to be addressed”
Mr Maguwu also told the Mining Vision Magazine that the problem of collapsed mine shafts is also prevalent in Hwange. The mine shafts are collapsing, left as open pits with no one attending to them and this poses a great danger to children, adults and animals.
“There is a lot of open cast mining in Hwange and some companies that have come on board are mining and leaving open pits, when the rain come, they become dams which are not secured and sometimes children swim in them,” he said. “We were dealing with a case of a child who went into a pond that was left open by miners and a crocodile converted that into a habitat; the child was attacked by a crocodile and sustained injuries.”
CNRG Executive director also pinpointed issues of coal gasification, dust emissions and pollution as some of the peculiar problems noted in the ongoing environmental audit. His opinion is that people need to be relocated to safer places to be away from some of the serious environmental hazards.
“The other issue is of coal gasification, some companies that are producing coke produce massive smoke which blows into the community,” he told the Mining Vision Magazine while highlighting that: “Trucks are also blowing dust into the community, conveyor belts are no longer working so companies are relying on lorries which have their own share of environmental pollution.”
The environmental audit is also finding out that there are massive emissions of carbon in communities emanating from electricity generation while some concerns are from those workforces who are at high risk of getting hurt by the air they breathe. In some instances, lack of protective clothing has been singled out.
CNRG advocates for environmentally friendly mining with social licenses from the communities where the extraction is taking place. Against this background, CNRG director recommended that: “On trucks, they (coal mining companies) just need to return the system of using conveyor belts for transporting coal. It is actually cheaper and environmentally friendly.”
“We want mining where the company invests back in the health, education and agriculture sectors of the community and we also want local content creation, value addition and beneficiation, linkages between mining and other sectors of the economy including infrastructure development.”
The grassroots people in mining communities get sensitization on proper natural resources governance from various organizations in Zimbabwe.