Environment By KENNEDY NYAVAYA
A group of youths from Mutoko has questioned the Environmental Management Agency’s (EMA) sincerity in the issuance of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) to black granite mining companies in the area.
The environmental advocates took a handwritten letter to EMA offices in their district early last week seeking answers to why it is so bureaucratic and expensive for them to access EIAs that ought to keep miners in check, at a time they have been at the receiving end of environmental impacts the activities pose.
One of the youth representatives, Faith Chikowe of Mbudzi B ward 8, said their demands were stirred by the environmental degradation that is being perpetrated by the quarrying companies which in extreme cases has resulted in loss of life for both humans and livestock.
“Access of EIAs should be made free to affected communities and EMA needs to begin sensitising the community on the existence of these documents,” said Chikowe.
“If the communities know about EIAs, they can demand the rehabilitation of degraded areas from the mining companies, that is if they know what the company promised on the EIA because they cannot demand without that knowledge.”
The Mashonaland East rural district is endowed with black granite deposits lack of infrastructural development worth talking about.
Instead, the mining activities in Mutoko have destroyed the road network, caused massive environmental degradation and forced the displacement of some villagers, among other negative impacts.
According to EMA, an EIA is a process which identifies the environmental impacts of a development and clearly outlines measures to mitigate the negative impact caused during project construction, implementation and decommissioning.
“[It’s] an evaluation of a project to determine its impact on the environment and human health and to set out the required environmental monitoring and management procedures and plans,” the Environmental Management Act says.
However, the community members say they are not being consulted during and after the whole process, which opens it up for manipulation between EMA, miners and a few individuals claiming to represent the communities.
“What happens is that the community is not consulted, they [mining companies] simply bribe certain individuals who may be key, be it the traditional leaders in the communities who then become signatories to the EIAs and agree on behalf of the entire community,” said Chikowe.
Forced to live with the trauma of seeing uncovered pits — some of which have claimed lives and assets — fear of displacements and in some cases health risks from dust, the knowledge gap adds to the local people’s woes.
“Consultations must be community-inclusive and followed by sensitisation so that if there is environmental degradation, the community can know how to approach the companies for redress,” said environmentalist Kudakwashe Makanda.
Makanda, a representative of Youth Initiatives for Community Development (YICD), added that the majority of community representation was being left out from this process as EMA was focusing mainly on the miners who in most instances take advantage of the villagers’ ignorance and default on promises.
“Some companies have promised to build infrastructure that they would leave once they close shop, but they are not even making an effort to build permanent structures, meaning the commitment does not benefit the community in any way,” he said.
Through YICD, an organisation focusing on mineral resource governance and youth participation, he believes the population especially youths should be empowered enough to deal with the environmental menace that affects their everyday life.
“As an organisation, we have been engaging youths through capacity-building programmes in the affected quarrying communities through trainings on social accountability monitoring, constitutional literacy and awareness,” said Makanda.
“They are now bold enough to spearhead their own communities’ advocacy initiatives and effectively engaging their duty bearers on issues affecting their communities.”
Meanwhile, the sustainability of mining has always been in question and although the operations cannot be halted as a result of need for the resource, there is the argument that firms should account for their operations by providing development in communities they operate in.
However, Mutoko villagers are yet to realise the blessing of staying in a mineral-rich area as all they are currently faced with is mining activity disturbing their farming efforts, presenting health hazards and dismantling the little infrastructure they have.