6 000 living in decommissioned mines, says EMA

AS many as 6 000 families are living in decommissioned mines across Zimbabwe, says the Environmental Management Agency (EMA).

In a Report EMA says this also includes ex-mine workers and their families and comes at the risk of contracting diseases from toxic chemicals and contaminated water sources.

EMA was established by government in 2002 through the Environmental Management Act with the mandate to protect Zimbabwe's environmental goods and services, including fostering sustainable resource use.

Based on the study of the cost of rehabilitating only four closed mines that it commissioned jointly with the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources Management, EMA in the Report, estimated that up to US$32 million would be required to save lives and the environment in ghost mining towns including Mhangura where copper used to be mined in Zimbabwe.

EMA said billions would, however, be needed if more mines were decommissioned across the country. The EMA Report points out that there is often a serious conflict of interest between environmental protection and profit.

"Illegal mineral panning is rife (in the ghost towns) with some panners illegally mining in former mine shafts and pits," EMA said.

"Some do it in pits and shafts, worsening the risk of ground substance as well as their lives, tailing dams are eroding and collapsing in most cases transmitting chemically contaminated effluent and sands into the environment."

It said evidence of acid mine drainage had been overwhelming in several disused mines across the country, with gullies forming, fugitive dust from tailing dams high and air pollution rampant.

"Most chrome washing plants are located in the vicinity of water bodies," the EMA Report said.

"Most of these water bodies are also used for other purposes such as irrigation and domestic (consumption). The life span of these water bodies is also threatened. Downstream water users and aquatic life are also adversely affected."

The organisation said it was, therefore, imperative that resource firms took it upon themselves to restore the environment once they exhausted their minerals to avoid the catastrophic consequences of exposing the environment to dangers.

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