Day 5 – Thursday

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The journey to school this morning was accompanied by a fascinating radio show on Radio Chengelo all about Malaria. This disease is the biggest killer in Africa and is spread mostly through mosquito bites. It can also be transmitted via shared needles and in rare cases during child birth. The program suggested a preventative measure of using insecticide treated mosquito nets at night. It also warned people to seek medical attention immediately where it can be treated with free drugs at the local clinic. I discussed this with my colleague Tione. He informed me that he usually contracted Malaria at least once a year. He suffers nausea, fever, stomach pains, general weakness, headache and loss of appetite. With him it lasts for a few days, whilst with others it lasts weeks. It is treated with quinine, fansida or chloroquine. Side effects of treatments can include severe dehydration.

As I arrived at school a pupil collapsed and was taken to the clinic with suspected Malaria. Staff informed me that recently there have been a few cases of this.

As we drove through Chingola I spotted some men cutting the grass on the verges. Nothing strange in this I thought, but why are the authorities spending money on this when there were clearly (in my mind) other more important needs. My ignorance was cleared up as Tione explained that this is one measure that can reduce the occurrence of mosquitoes (the main vector of Malaria), along with clearing drains so there were less standing water. Before 1991 this grass was cut regularly, now it is rare.

Next we toured Kongola Copper Mines (KCM). This company is a subsidiary of Vedanta (an Indian owned Transnational Company (TNC). It is the 5th largest copper producer in the world. Copper production has increased enormously recently, in response to the demand for copper in China and India. To give you an idea of the scale of this operation 25% of Zambia’s entire diesel consumption comes from KCM (provided by BP – a British TNC). It produces 20, 000 tonnes of copper ore per day and employs 14, 000 people.

As we viewed the largest open cast mine in the world (Nchanga) one of the teachers pointed out a settlement which was less than 100 metres away. In 2000 a landslide here killed 10 workers. The spokesman stated that the company offered to buy these homes, but many residents refused to leave. The company now drain the slopes more and have sited slope monitoring equipment. A fascinating exchange followed with the teachers arguing that the noise was unacceptable (blasting) and the danger of another slope failure was imminent.

Illegal miners enter the site to collect copper ore. Each 25kg bag fetches around 70 000 Kwacha. In a day an illegal miner will collect 10 bags (700 000Kwacha). If one compares this to the average wage of a legal miner (1.5million Kwacha per month) it is obvious why this is so attractive. Most illegal miners are children from the compounds who enter the site at night and are picked up in the morning by a gang leader. This copper ore will then be sold back to KCM via a legal mine operator. With that, a line of children were spotted carrying bags of copper ore. The officials laughed and commented that there is nothing they can do about it as the site is so big. Officially nine illegal miners have been killed, whilst unofficially many are never even reported. In a recent meeting between KCM and a group of illegal miners KCM were told that if they could provide such an income for them they would stop, but if security were increased they would have no choice but to go into robbery. As a consequence the illegal miners steal KCM’s copper ore, then sell it back to them.

There are enough copper deposits to last to between 2015 and 2022. When ore is extracted we were told that there is no law that ensures the open cast is filled in or to deal with the dumped waste.

KCM provides the main employment in Chingola and is expanding by constructing a new smelter. This will provide 1000 new jobs. Without KCM many more people would be in desperate poverty. TNCs clearly bring obvious economic benefits to developing nations like Zambia, but at what cost?

Next we toured the copper processing plant from raw materials to output, learning much about the complex chemistry involved (if only I had worked harder in my chemistry A level I might have understood more!). The fumes were nauseating, even through a mask. Apparently they come from leakages at the sulphuric acid manufacturing plant on the site (official comment – “Some are damaged”).

A metallurgist explained that the accidental spillage of tailings happened in the pump station. One of the four pipes that take waste chemicals from the site ruptured and released waste into the Chingola River. This enters the Kafue River where Chingola collects its water (see previous posting). We were told that what should have happened following the leak was that there is a pollution control dam (PCD) at which point lime is added to neutralise the acid, but “we did not have enough lime”. When asked what his feelings were on this he replied “it never happened in the past, we took it for granted”. Now there is always lime there. He suggested that there was much more made of the incident than was necessary – “80% was under control in a day”.

More questions were asked about the impact of waste dumps on the ecology, but we were requested to contact the environmental manager (email to follow!). 

Finally we visited the end of the process where the finished copper would be loaded onto a train, sent to South Africa where it would be shipped to India and China.

From KCM we travelled to ‘hippo pools’ which is home to a rural community that were directly affected by the event. On entering the village Zambian protocol followed. Tione and senior staff from our school spoke with the village head man and chairman who agreed to me filming an interview with the villagers. Benches were then brought out and the staff were invited to sit whilst we interviewed. As the villagers spoke Bemba, I relied on a translator. I am still trying to work out in my own mind the events that followed. The head man told me all about what had happened – rashes, sickness, dead fish. We asked for evidence and a woman and child came forward with the rashes. Then I interviewed a family whose child had died following the pollution event. They explained that they received no warning for 14 days after which a tanker came with water. KCM promised to sink a bore hole for water, but nothing has taken place yet.

Next we visited the Kafue River where the infected water was drawn from. It is crocodile infested and the village elder informed us that a child had been recently killed, someone else had lost an arm and another lost a leg. We took a sample and will attempt to have it analysed on return to the UK. We acquired a very drunk companion on the bus whom Tione informed me had been drinking a strong local distilled beer. Apparently this is also a common sight in the compounds with many men passing the day in a drunken state.

Back at school we dined on an amazing traditional Zambian meal made by one of the teachers. It consisted of Nshima (a kind of hard porridge), beef, pumpkin leaves mixed with ground nuts (chibwabwa), okra (relish), impwa (egg plant), kalembula (sweet potato leaves) and fishimu (caterpillar…er yes that’s what I said!). Caterpillar is a Zambian delicacy and tastes actually very good.

I have not yet really taken in everything that I have experienced today, to be honest. I set out to ensure I gave a balanced view of industry in Chingola. It clearly brings massive economic benefits to the town in terms of employment. On the other hand the environmental and social impacts are difficult to ignore. I defy anyone who has interviewed a family who’s child has just died allegedly as a result of the actions of a TNC to argue that the economic benefits outweigh the environmental and social impacts.

I will end with a quote that will remain with me for a long time, and it comes from the father of the dead child. I asked him what KCM should do to compensate for their actions:

                        “There is no compensation that can bring back my child”

 What can I say to that?

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