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Article

16 Mar 2023

Author:
Human Rights Watch

Zambia: Civil Society believes government’s intention to make Kabwe a ‘green city’ can help address the toxic lead poison that has hammed residents for years

‘Green City’ Plan Should Focus on Lead Mine Remediation’ 9 March 2023

The Zambian government’s statement that it intends to make Kabwe a “green city” could offer an important opportunity to address the toxic lead that has been harming residents for decades, the Alliance for a Lead-Free Kabwe, a group of Zambian and international organizations, said today. Zambia’s acting minister of green economy and environment, Elijah Muchima, announced the plan at a roundtable conference organized by the alliance in Lusaka, the capital, on March 2, 2023. “We are heartened to hear from the Ministry of Green Economy and Environment about its plan,” said Namo Chuma, director of Environment Africa Zambia. “But Kabwe can only be considered green if the cleanup of the source of the pollution, the toxic mine, is the number one priority in the government’s plans.”

…As a result, lead dust from its large uncovered waste dumps blows over to nearby residential areas such as Chowa, Kasanda, and Makululu, putting up to 200,000 people’s health at risk. Medical researchers estimate that over 95 percent of children living near the former mine have elevated blood lead levels. They also say that about half of them have blood lead levels so high that they require urgent medical intervention…In March 2022, President Hakainde Hichilema requested the Ministry of Green Economy and Environment to establish a technical committee to “address and lead the process of comprehensive remediation” in Kabwe. However, the technical committee only had one meeting, on June 3, 2022, which was attended by representatives from government agencies, the University of Zambia, and civil society organizations. Since then, a subcommittee has been working on the committee’s terms of reference. The process of finalizing the terms of reference has been slow, and the committee’s terms of reference have not been made public.

…A Human Rights Watch report on the Kabwe case has illustrated the harmful impacts of lead contamination on children’s rights to health, information, and education. The Zambia Mining and Environmental Remediation and Improvement Project (ZMERIP), a government program, is providing some lead testing and treatment for children, as well as cleanup measures, but has not included a cleanup of the source of the lead, the mine waste. “The children of Kabwe deserve a swift and lasting solution that allows them to live in a healthy environment,” said Josphat Njobvu, director of Advocacy for Child Justice. “The government now needs to put its words into practice.”