A group of Zambian villagers will appear in London’s High Court this week for a case pitting the poorest inhabitants of Zambia against a UK-based mining giant that allegedly allowed the poisoning of communal lands and water by its Zambian subsidiary.
The soil in the so-called Copperbelt used to be rich and highly productive but now produces virtually nothing. The community believes this is due to pollution entering the stream.
After months of postponements, a three-day hearing is now scheduled on behalf of 1,826 villagers, members of four artisanal farming communities situated in the Copperbelt region along the Mushishima and Kafue Rivers. The law firm of Leigh Day is representing them.
According to the villagers, their water sources and farming land were contaminated by the copper mining operations of Vedanta Resources Plc and its Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). Pollution, first reported in 2004, is still ongoing today, they say, causing them to fall sick and lose their crops.
Women of the communities of Hippo Pool, Kakosa, Shimulala and Hellen say the Mushishima stream and the Kafue have become foul-smelling “rivers of acid.”
A whistleblower, who worked for 15 years with KCM, said that since Vedanta bought the mine in 2004, corners were cut to save the costs of running operations.
“I decided to speak out because I could no longer be part of the destruction…The next generation will not have kind words for us,” he said.
KCM maintains it has spent $ 530 million to improve the environmental performance of its operations. This includes replacing slurry waste pipelines to the pollution control dam and putting in a new smelter, which it says captures 99.7% of sulphur emissions.
But the environmental record for the two companies has been far from good. In 2011, the Lusaka High Court ordered Vedanta Resources and KCM to pay approximately $1.4 million to 2,000 villagers after sulphuric acid and other chemicals spilled into the Mushishima stream and Kafue River in 2006.
“‘The Claimants are desperately poor Zambians who are anxious to be compensated for all the losses and harm they have suffered as speedily as possible,” said Martyn Day, the law firm’s senior partnery. “It is clear that justice is far more likely to be achieved quickly and efficiently by the cases staying in this country.