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Zambia: Hope for Kabwe Lead Poisoning Victims

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 Recent actions by the Zambian government to address the toxic legacy of lead in Kabwe central Zambia provide hope to affected communities 15 Zambian and international non governmental organizations said today In March 2022 Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema established a new technical committee to address extreme levels of lead contamination from a former mine and smelter hellip
Zambia: Hope for Kabwe Lead Poisoning Victims

NNN: Recent actions by the Zambian government to address the toxic legacy of lead in Kabwe, central Zambia, provide hope to affected communities, 15 Zambian and international non-governmental organizations said today.

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In March 2022, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema established a new technical committee to address extreme levels of lead contamination from a former mine and smelter in Kabwe, and to protect human health and the environment. The committee met for the first time on June 3 at the Ministry of Green Economy and Environment and will propose a plan for a sustainable solution to the pollution in Kabwe.

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“The Zambian government’s willingness to seek a long-term sustainable solution together with stakeholders is a crucial step forward in addressing the environmental disaster in Kabwe,” said Namo Chuma, director of Kabwe-based Environment Africa. “As a civil society, we are ready to support this process.”

The Ministry of Green Economy will oversee the committee, with representatives from the Zambia Environmental Management Agency, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the University of Zambia and civil society organizations. The chair has asked non-governmental organizations to take an active role in the committee’s work, expressing appreciation for their efforts to address lead contamination.

Kabwe was the site of a mine and smelter that contaminated the environment with extremely high levels of lead. The mine was originally owned by British colonial companies, including Anglo American, from 1925 to 1974, and later nationalized. As early as 1936, medical certificates revealed that the foundry workers suffered from lead poisoning. Although the mine closed in 1994, its waste was never cleaned up, and lead dust from discovered dumps continues to find its way into nearby residential areas, contaminating homes, yards, schools and playgrounds.

Medical researchers estimate that more than 95 percent of children living in the vicinity of the former mine have elevated blood lead levels, and about half of the children require urgent medical intervention. Human Rights Watch has documented the harmful impact of pollution on children’s health and educational rights. Overall, up to 200,000 people have elevated blood lead levels. The ongoing dangerous small-scale mining at the old mine site exacerbates the situation.

“We hope that the technical committee will develop a concrete and feasible plan for a comprehensive cleanup of the Kabwe mine tailings that the government will carry out immediately,” said Juliane Kippenberg, deputy director for children’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “This is a vital opportunity to protect the children of Kabwe.”

The Kabwe lead contamination problem has received increasing attention in Zambia and internationally. In early 2022, a United Nations report on violations of the right to a healthy environment highlighted the Kabwe case as a “sacrifice zone”. In 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxic Substances and Human Rights wrote to the Zambian government urging strong action to ensure the health, safety and well-being of local populations in Kabwe. Lawyers from South Africa and the UK have brought a class action lawsuit against Anglo American on behalf of affected children and women of childbearing age in Kabwe.

“The contamination at the old Kabwe mine has not been addressed for decades,” said Bishop Clement Mulenga of the Kabwe Diocese. “We encourage the committee to engage affected communities and publicly share information about its progress and findings.”

The signatory organizations are:

Advocacy for children’s justice

Caritas Zambia

Children’s Environmental Health Foundation

Environment Africa Zambia

human rights monitor

lifeline for children

Media Network on Children’s Rights and Development

People’s Action for Accountability and Good Governance in Zambia

Zambia Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative

Save Zambia Environment and People Agency

Terre des Hommes Germany

Transparency International Zambia

Zambia Governance Foundation

Zambia National Education Coalition

National Women’s Lobby of Zambia

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