Legacy mining pollution in Zambia is the result of many decades of unsustainable mining operations and inadequate rehabilitation or closure of mining sites. In the Copperbelt Province, townships adjacent to copper mining sites are severely polluted while in the old mining town of Kabwe, there are unacceptably high levels of lead in the soil.
Interventions and Expected Results
The World Bank-funded $65.6 million Zambia Mining and Environmental Remediation and Improvement Project (ZMERIP), aims to reduce environmental health risks in critically polluted mining areas. The project specifically targets the communities living in Chingola, Kabwe, Kitwe and Mufulira municipalities, including lead exposure in Kabwe municipality.
ZMERIP is financing the following interventions which will benefit communities, especially the poor and vulnerable, living in targeted contaminated areas:
- Rehabilitation and closure of a pilot tailing dam and overburden site in the Copperbelt
- In-situ remediation of contaminated soils in targeted households in the 4 municipalities
- Upgradation of infrastructure to prevent outflow of pollution from the main canal and greening and infrastructural upgrades of schools in Kabwe
- Sensitization and public awareness of hazards of lead and other heavy metal pollution
- Income generation and environmentally safe livelihoods for women and unemployed youth
- Testing and treatment of children with high blood lead levels in Kabwe
- Improved technical and institutional capacity of regulatory authorities for environmental monitoring and compliance.
In Kabwe, Lead exposure mainly results from ingestion of lead contaminated soil or food, but also through inhalation and penetration through the skin. People affected have high Blood Lead Levels (BLLs), a silent killer causing anemia, headaches, seizures, abdominal pain neurological symptoms and developmental delays. Remediation activities and management of contaminated hotspots is expected to help protect around 70,000 people, and an estimated 30,000 children will benefit from education and awareness building campaigns. More than 3,000 children who have been impacted by lead pollution in Kabwe are also being assisted through direct health interventions, including blood lead level testing, treatment and nutritional supplements.
The project builds on the Copperbelt Environment Project (CEP), which closed in March 2011. Some lessons learnt include the need to build local capacity and get local buy-in to support project implementation. ZMERIP emphasizes strong ownership by Kabwe’s government and utilizes a community-based approach to reduce exposure to hazardous employment activities. Before rolling out activities, the project team ensured that these conditions were in place. Rehabilitation works in Kabwe and large infrastructural activities in the Copperbelt had been delayed by almost 8 months due to COVID related restrictions.