By Gershom Ndhlovu
“Thanks for bringing the spotlight on some for the forgotten dangers lurking in the Zambian environment,” wrote someone signing himself as Nice E on my blog.
“As you've rightly pointed out, the pollutants stretch right across the board, from asbestos to Zinc, with a bit of Lead, sulphur dioxide fumes, etc, in between. While these toxins are mainly under control in the West, they continue sending people to their early graves on a daily basis in places like Zambia. And nowadays, many unexplained or complicated ailments are simply dismissed as HIV-related.“You are right in suggesting that "in the spirit of Keep Zambia Clean issues such as these raised here are holistically addressed, laws and regulations strengthened and those that transgress them are punished.“However, to begin with GRZ seems to be in denial over past and present pollution from the mining industry in particular. For example, GRZ dismissed the report that placed the former mining (and glorious) town of Kabwe as being in the top 10 of most polluted places in the entire world!
“Also, GRZ did not act in a tough and decisive manner when fish in the Kafue River around Chingola died mysteriously and the local population's drinking water turned green. That's only sometime last year or there about. How can such criminal negligence go unpunished?”
Indeed, as a follow up to last week’s article, I did a bit of research in the dangers of the use of leaded paint which I suspect is very much in use in Zambia and the rest of Africa.
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission website at www.cpsc.gov, lead-based paint is a major source of lead poisoning for children and can also affect adults.
“In children, lead poisoning can cause irreversible brain damage and can impair mental functioning. It can retard mental and physical development and reduce attention span. It can also retard foetal development even at extremely low levels of lead. In adults, it can cause irritability, poor muscle coordination, and nerve damage to the sense organs and nerves controlling the body. Lead poisoning may also cause problems with reproduction (such as a decreased sperm count). It may also increase blood pressure. Thus, young children, foetuses, infants, and adults with high blood pressure are the most vulnerable to the effects of lead.”“Because the early symptoms of lead poisoning are easy to confuse with other illnesses, it is difficult to diagnose lead poisoning without medical testing. Early symptoms may include persistent tiredness, irritability, loss of appetite, stomach discomfort, reduced attention span, insomnia, and constipation. Failure to treat children in the early stages can cause long-term or permanent health damage,” says the CPSC document.
Recently, most countries in the West had to withdraw a particular type of toy imported from China from the shops because of excessive levels of lead in the paint on the product.
Unfortunately, these are issues which are never raised in our part of the world where anything goes. Unregulated products with unknown chemical make up easily enter the market and consumed with fatal consequences as is the case with leaded paint cited above.
It is not by accident that people in the West are healthy and safe from environmental hazards; it is simply because authorities there have strengthened laws, rules and regulations of how both corporate and individual citizens should conduct themselves and penalizing those that ignore them.
In the case of Zambia and the rest of Africa, self-interest by public servants and appeasement for those with economic interests has over the years led to a situation where health and safety issues are seriously compromised.
For instance, it is not by mere coincidence that Konkola Copper Mines was not prosecuted when it polluted the Kafue River in Chingola last year, but rather historical because Nchanga Consolidated Copper Mines and Roan Copper Mines, the forerunners of the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines, were exempted by law from prosecution for pollution.
I would not be surprised if such a proviso still exists in our statute books giving mining companies licence to pollute.