Environmental services: A case study of the environmental challenges in mining sector, Zimbabwe

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The mining sector is seen both as a driver for socio-economic development and for environmental damages as a result of the extraction of minerals. The impacts on the environment brought by mining activities and the importance of mining to other industries demonstrate the need for the analysis of such sector, promoting its development under the assumptions of sustainable development. 

With the growing population in Zimbabwe, the mining sector has strong and direct environmental impacts. With the growing trade in mining operations , mining companies often work directly with the most vulnerable populations and can dramatically alter the natural surroundings in the places they work, and have the potential to make volatile economies even more unstable. This paper explores on the environmental sustainability challenges associated with mining sector in Zimbabwe. The researcher explored on issues to do with biodiversity, pollution, water management and the practical measures to address the challenges associated with them such as, holistic integrated approach and government intervention through implementation of policies.

Environmental Challenges in the mining sector

Mines are hubs of air pollution in Zimbabwe. The mining sector is extremely energy-intensive and one of the major emitters of greenhouse gasses. It is also widely accepted that available mining resources are getting deeper and of declining grades. In Zimbabwe the older mines such as Trojan Nickel (Bindura), Renco Mine (Masvingo) and How Mine (Bulawayo) and others are now deep mines which demand more consumption of non-renewable energy sources. According to Ruttinger and Sharma (2016) this will lead to growing demands for water and generation of greater mine waste, thereby raising energy demands, and increasing the industry’s climate footprint. Monitoring the industry’s carbon emissions and the recent success in climate negotiations (Ruttinger and Sharma ,2016)  will increase pressure on mining companies to explore ways to reduce their emissions by using renewable energies.

One of the greatest challenges associated with mining in Zimbabwe is biodiversity loss through deforestation, since there is massive deforestation during preparatory stages. As noted by CRD (2012) when the diamond mining companies started operating at Chiadzwa there was an increased use of  wood because of the influx of people into the area with no other source of fuel energy. The greatest deforestation however was caused by the mining companies as they effectively cleared large tracks of land in order to expose the diamond ore. One can also note that it is not only for diamond mining but, for every mining activity to take off, they clear the land as they create roads and expose the land to increase accessibility (Gomez et al, 2013). Such a substantial loss of biodiversity will often reduce the wildlife inhabitants of the affected area. According to Chiwandamira (2007) without a place for birds to build their nests, antelopes and other animals to create their homes in hidden areas within forests, animals are left with few survival options other than emigration, once complete deforestation has occurred. The change in both the aquatic and terrestrial habitats would have a profound effect on biodiversity, an issue that needs further investigation. The mining operations have drastically changed habitats in addition to increasing human population. 

Mining also use heavy machinery such as excavators to clear large tracks of land. The movement of excavators loosens the soil thereby causing chronic erosion. The removal of vegetation cover can alter the biological systems found in the soil and also make it vulnerable to forces of erosion.

Recommendations

Mining can become more environmentally friendly through developing and integrating practices that reduce the adverse environmental impact of mining operations. According to Lins and Horwitz (2017) The UN- REDD+ Programme incorporates a number of documents that confirm the role that mining procedures in over 60 countries play a driving force in deforestation of these areas. The strategies discussed in the UN- REDD+ Programme can assist Zimbabwe with designing and implementing programs that specifically cater to the area’s needs.  In Zimbabwe Forestry Commission has started to respond by implementing programs that protect forests from deforestation. Forest monitoring can also help in reducing deforestation, as postulated by Mamimine (2010) the implementation of new monitoring technologies like drones and mobile phones have the potential to greatly improve the way in which important data is collected and relayed back to government and corporation personnel. The use of higher resolution cameras to map the dispersion of mining impacts within an area could also improve the way in which environmental issues are addressed and even prevented.

Mining companies need to come up with a biodiversity strategy. C, Lins and E, Horwitz (2017) published a study on the most recent initiatives taken by large diversified mining companies such as Anglo American and Rio Tinto. According to the study RIO Tinto has committed to make a net-positive impact on biodiversity on the lands where it operates.  In other words, the company seeks to leave as much natural variety, if not more, than existed before its operations close.  It also aims to rehabilitate land as it comes out of use, not wait until all operations at the site have ceased (Hillman,2008).  The company has published a “Biodiversity Strategy”, a framework for managing interests and concerns of a wide range of groups, integrates biodiversity and business management and requires that all businesses have plans for current and potential uses of company-managed land.  Such initiatives if adopted by all mining companies in Zimbabwe can help in protecting biodiversity.

Water resource in mining faces challenges that include ,creation of potentially toxic waste rock, water table contamination, tailing dam failures, deep water disposal and acid mine drainage to mention but a few. These factors have a negative impact on the environment hence compromising the sustainability of the resource. However these constraints may be avoided or reduced by implementing mitigation measures. Acid mine drainage (AMD) is a potentially severe pollution hazard that can contaminate surrounding soil, groundwater, and surface water. The formation of acid mine drainage is a function of the geology, hydrology, and mining technology employed at a mine site. The primary sources for acid generation are sulfide minerals, such as pyrite (iron sulfide), which decompose in air and water. Many of these sulfide minerals originate from waste rock removed from the mine or from tailings. Kesler (2008) noted that if water infiltrates pyrite-laden rock in the presence of air, it can become acidified, often at a pH level of two or three. This increased acidity in the water can destroy living organisms, and corrode culverts, piers, boat hulls, pumps, and other metal equipment in contact with the acid waters and render the water unacceptable for drinking or recreational.

Considering the challenges mentioned afore on water resource, integrated water resource Management may be the best approach in sustainably manage the resource. Although the planning and management of water resources especially in the mining sector in Zimbabwe is a long and intricate process, a holistic approach is the best way to sustainably manage the resource. According Hillman (2008) Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is a systematic process for the sustainable development, allocation and monitoring of water resource use in the context of social, economic and environmental objective. The process seeks to strengthen cross sectional coordination in development of the country’s water resources to reduce conflict, waste and unsustainable systems. Machena (2009) also noted that the process towards realization of IWRM must be participating involving all key stakeholders within the economic sectors, non-governmental organization, the public sector and other relevant civil society groups. The IWRM planning and implementation process is a logical sequence of phases that are driven and supported by continuous events.

Conclusion

In Zimbabwe, few mining companies particularly those owned by large international mining houses are making strides in complying with international best practices to achieve full criteria for sustainable business. The extractive nature of the mining industry however should be accompanied with appropriate observance of environmental laws, appropriate corporate social responsibility, legislative reforms, transparency and accountability by all stakeholders. However, the overall current performance resulted in the researcher suggesting that these mining companies must continue to improve their practices by following what have been discussed in this research paper for sustainable development goal to be achieved, that is capacity building, integrated and holistic approaches  to the environment.

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