Funding potentially running into hundreds of millions is required to finance rehabilitation of decommissioned mines in Zimbabwe to make them environmentally safe, Parliament heard on Monday.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) director general, Mutsa Chasi told the parliamentary portfolio on mines and energy that some decommissioned mines, which were closed decades ago, were unsafe for the environment and required urgent restoration.
“We are stranded with all the closed mines. If we were to go back and correct the problems they are causing after mining, just four mines will cost us $32 million just to make them safe for people who are still living there,” Chasi said.
There are over 15 decommissioned mines which require attention.
“In Hwange, a mine decommissioned in 1938 is still polluting a river and goats are still dying because of acid draining from coal which was mined there,” she said.
Collapsing slime dams, uncovered open cast mines presented hazards to communities.
“Miners should make sure everything is strong, everything is well sealed and make sure that the area is left safe for the people who live there. They should not be exposed to danger,” she said.
Chasi called for an increase in penalties for pollution and for legislators to synchronise mining and environment laws. In particular, the laws need to emphasise the importance of environmental impact assessments before mining operations can be allowed to start.
Currently, penalties range between $5 for level one offences up to $5,000 for level 14 offences, insignificant when compared to the cost to the environment, she said.
“Companies and individuals find it cheaper to pollute as opposed to investing in cleaner technologies. In some cases miners are too pleased to pay the fines yet the fines are supposed to make it imperative for them not to do it again,” Chasi said.
She said the fine for operating without the proper environment documentation, currently $5,000, was not prohibitive.
Regional peers Zambia and Botswana levy $24,500 and $15,000, respectively, for mining without an environmental impact assessment, she said.
Chasi also expressed concern on the continued importation and illegal use of hazardous chemicals such as cyanide and mercury in gold mining.